The House committee probing the assault on the US Capitol laid out a searing, prime-time indictment on Thursday of Donald Trump’s refusal to halt or condemn the violence and insisted he should be held legally accountable for a gross dereliction of presidential duty.
Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, speaking at the televised finale of a series of public hearings into the attack, said Trump “recklessly blazed a path of lawlessness and corruption” as he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 US election.
Addressing the committee virtually because he has Covid-19, Thompson said there must be “accountability” for what he called an attack on democracy.
“The select committee has told a story of a president who did everything in his power to overturn an election,” Thompson said. “He lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath.
“He tried to destroy our democratic institutions,” Thompson added. “There needs to be accountability... all the way up to the Oval Office.”
Representative Elaine Luria said the series of committee hearings have “shown the many ways in which president Trump tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power in the days leading up to 6 January.”
“With each step of his plan he betrayed his oath of office and was derelict in his duty,” Luria said.
The panel, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the violent insurrection, is holding its eighth public hearing into the attack on the Capitol.
Lawmakers are examining Trump’s actions on the day, starting with a fiery speech to his supporters near the White House claiming the November 2020 election was stolen and extending until the moment when he finally told the rioters they were “very special” but needed to go home.
Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the committee, released excerpts on Twitter of testimony from several White House aides, who said the president spent nearly three hours watching the attack unfold on television in a private dining room.
White House chief counsel Pat Cipollone told the committee that advisors were urging the president to issue a statement telling people to leave the Capitol.
“I think I was pretty clear there needed to be an immediate and forceful response statement, public statement that people need to leave the Capitol,” he said.
The panel has subpoenaed numerous advisors and aides to Trump as it seeks to determine whether he or his associates had a role in planning or encouraging the bid by his supporters to prevent certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
The prime-time hearing is the final one in this series. Committee members said there would be further hearings in September.
The committee’s opening hearing was also held in prime time, when television audiences are largest.
Two witnesses delivered live testimony on Thursday: former deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger, who served on the National Security Council.
Matthews and Pottinger both resigned on 6 January as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
Previous committee hearings have focused on Trump’s attempt to sway election officials in swing states that Biden narrowly won and pressure put on vice president Mike Pence not to certify the Electoral College results.
During its seventh hearing last week, the committee examined the impact of a tweet Trump sent on 19 December, 2020, urging his supporters to descend on the nation’s capital on 6 January for a rally he promised would be “wild.”
Members of right-wing militia groups the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and other Trump supporters saw the tweet from the president as a “call to arms,” lawmakers said.
More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on Congress, which left at least five people dead and 140 police officers injured.
The 76-year-old Trump, who has repeatedly hinted that he may run for the White House again in 2024, was impeached for a historic second time by the House after the Capitol riot—he was charged with inciting an insurrection—but was acquitted by the Senate, where only a handful of Republicans voted to convict him.
The House committee is to submit a report to Congress this fall with its findings.
The committee may issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department, leaving it up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide whether Trump or others should be prosecuted for the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Garland told reporters on Wednesday that the January 6 probe is the “most important” investigation the Justice Department has ever conducted and stressed that “no one is above the law in this country.”