January 6 hearings: Donald Trump watched Capitol riots unfold on TV and 'chose not to act'

Correspondent Rachel Younger reports after it emerged Donald Trump 'chose not to act' during the January 6 Capitol riots

Former US President Donald Trump ignored pleas to condemn the attack on the US Capitol and instead "[poured] gasoline on the fire" as he watched it unfold on television in his dining room, a hearing was told.

The prime-time hearing investigating the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill said despite almost everyone in Trump's team urging him to call on his supporters to stop the attack, he refused to follow their advice and instead celebrated his supporters as "very special".

Never-seen-before outtakes from Trump's speech the day after the riots were played to the panel, showing him telling the camera "I don't want to say the election is over" and refusing to admit the rioters broke the law.

Meanwhile, new recordings of Secret Service radio transmissions revealed how Capitol security agents asked for messages to be relayed telling their own families goodbye during the siege.

The panel's chairman Bennie Thompson, opened Thursday’s hearing saying Trump as president did “everything in his power to overturn the election” he lost to Joe Biden and “lied, he bullied, he betrayed his oath."

Watch ITV News US Correspondent Robert Moore's report from Washington DC on January 6 in full

In what has been called the most significant Congressional hearing in US political history, the House committee has been aiming to show Trump's potential voters how he must never again be trusted with a position of power.

The insurrection - launched by Trump's supporters after false claims from the then-president that the election was "stolen" - left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters charged into the Capitol.

At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.

Trump treated the violent riots as a 'celebratory occasion'

After months of work and weeks of hearings, the prime-time session started the way the committee began - laying blame for the deadly attack on Trump himself for summoning the mob to Washington and sending them to Capitol Hill.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a fellow Republican but fervent Trump critic, said: “President Trump didn’t fail to act. He chose not to act.”

The committee aimed to show a “minute by minute” accounting of Trump’s actions with new testimony, including from two White House aides, never-before-heard security radio transmissions of Secret Service officers fearing for their lives and behind-the-scenes discussions at the White House.

It argued that for around 187 minutes - from the time Trump left a rally stage sending his supporters to the Capitol to the time he ultimately appeared in the Rose Garden video later that day - nothing could compel the defeated president to act.

The defeated president turned his supporters' “love of country into a weapon,” said the panel's Republican vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

ITV News cameras followed insurrectionists into the Capitol building on January 6 2021. Credit: ITV News

Trump was “giving the green light” to his supporters by tweeting condemnation of Vice President Mike Pence's refusal to go along with his plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory, a former White House aide told the committee.

With the Capitol siege raging, the mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence" it was testified.

Two aides resigned on the spot after the tweet.

“I thought that Jan. 6 2021, was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history,” Sarah Matthews - a lifelong Republican - told the panel.

“And President Trump was treating it as a celebratory occasion. So it just further cemented my decision to resign.”

She said his tweet was “pouring gasoline on the fire.”

The committee also played audio of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reacting with shock to the president’s inaction during the attack. “You’re the commander-in-chief," he told Trump in the recording. "You’ve got an assault going on on the Capitol of the United States of America. And there’s nothing? No call? Nothing, Zero?”

Trump's own family urged him to stop the attack

The panel also showed previously unseen testimony from the president's son, Donald Trump, Jr., with a text message to his father's chief of staff Mark Meadows urging the president to call off the mob.

Donald Trump Jr wrote: "He's got to condemn this s***. Asap. The capitol police tweet is not enough."

"I am pushing it hard. I agree," Mark Meadows responded.

"This his one you go to the mattresses on. They will try to f*** his entire legacy on this if it gets worse," Trump Jr added.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner also testified in a recorded video that a “scared” GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called him for help.

And in a gripping moment, the panel showed Trump refusing to deliver a speech the next day declaring the election was over - despite his daughter, Ivanka Trump, heard off-camera, encouraging him to read the script.

'Security refused to take Trump to the Capitol during the siege' On January 6, an irate Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol after his supporters had stormed the building, well aware of the deadly attack, but his security team refused.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va said the panel had received testimony confirming the powerful previous account of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson of an altercation involving Trump as he insisted the Secret Service drive him to the Capitol.

Among the witnesses testifying Thursday in a recorded video was retired District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Mark Robinson who told the committee that Trump was well aware of the number of weapons in the crowd of his supporters but wanted to go regardless.

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“The only description that I received was that the president was upset, and that he was adamant about going to the Capitol and that there was a heated discussion about that,” Mr Robinson said.

Meanwhile, recordings of Secret Service radio transmissions revealed how agents at the Capitol trying to whisk then-vice president Pence to safety asked for messages to be relayed telling their own families goodbye.

Trump says panel should be 'embarrassed'

Trump, who is considering another White House run, dismissed the committee as a “Kangaroo court,” and name-called the panel and witnesses for “many lies and misrepresentations.”

Taking to social media platform Truth Social after the hearing on Thursday, Trump said: "The Unselects are embarrassed by their 'performance' tonight!" What is the hearing aiming to show? So far, more than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors.

Of the more than 200 defendants to be sentenced, approximately 100 received terms of imprisonment.

While the committee cannot make criminal charges, the Justice Department is monitoring its work.

No former president has ever been federally prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney. Credit: AP

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Wednesday that January 6 is “the most wide-ranging investigation and the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into.”

Republican vice chair Ms Cheney said “the dam has begun to break” on revealing what happened that fateful day. “Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office,” she declared. “Every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6 ever be trusted in any position of authority in our great nation?”

Five people died that day as Trump supporters battled the police in gory hand-to-hand combat to storm the Capitol. One officer has testified that she was “slipping in other people's blood” as they tried to hold back the mob. One Trump supporter was shot and killed by police.

Far from finishing its work after Thursday's hearing, the panel will return in September as more witnesses and information emerge.