WASHINGTON (AP) — The week before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Missouri’s Josh Hawley became the first Republican senator to announce he would object to the certification of the 2020 election.
Texas’ Ted Cruz came next, dashing off his own plan on a flight from Houston to Washington days before the joint session of Congress to certify the election results.
In all, a dozen GOP senators initially planned to challenge Joe Biden’s victory. But unlike their House GOP counterparts who have been subpoenaed for testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, the Republican senators have largely escaped the reach of the investigation.
While the committee did share highlights about the senators, including Hawley’s raised-fist salute to the rioters that day — an image seared in history, and now on coffee mugs the senator sells — it has made the surprising, if pragmatic, decision not to call the senators for testimony. One dramatic video showed Hawley sprinting from the Senate chamber later that day as rioters swarmed.
Al Drago/Pool via AP
A photo of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is displayed on a screen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Amid wider public scrutiny of Jan. 6, the senators have been left to explain their actions on their own terms, and have often done so defiantly.
“I do not regret it,” Hawley said to applause at Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida, after he strode to the stage Friday to a standing ovation.
As the summer hearings of the Jan. 6 committee come to a close, Chairman Bennie Thompson has indicated that the panel is looking elsewhere. As work continues, the investigation is moving closer to the top ranks of the White House and the defeated president’s inner circle.
“We continue to receive new information every day,” Thompson, D-Miss., said last week, announcing the next round of hearings in September. “We are pursuing many additional witnesses for testimony.”
The House committee is investigating not only the grisly attack on the Capitol, but Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the presidential election by submitting “fake” slates of electors from the battleground states to vote for him, not Biden, when Congress convened Jan. 6 to tally the 2020 presidential election results.
The senators could provide information about the run-up to Jan. 6, including any conversations they may have had with Trump and his lawyers who were putting together the plan for the fake electors, said Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at Brookings and former top adviser to Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.
In one dramatic screenshot of a text exchange, the committee told the story of how a top aide for GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin attempted to hand off a slate of false, pro-Trump electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence as he was presiding in his ceremonial role of certifying the election. Johnson has said he was not involved in that effort.
But having interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and having issued rare subpoenas to fellow House lawmakers, Eisen said the panel is trying to preserve its political capital by declining to compel senators to testify in what would be seen as an unusual House challenge to the upper chamber.
The Jan. 6 committee’s decision to issue subpoenas to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama was a show of force by the nine-member panel. And it came after much deliberation among the lawmakers, who for weeks considered whether taking the unprecedented step of subpoenaing members of their own chamber would be worth further inflaming partisan tensions over the 2021 attack.
“They only have so much committee time,” said Eisen.
Cruz declined to say Tuesday if he would have appeared had the Jan. 6 panel asked for his testimony. Hawley’s office has similarly said he wouldn’t want to address a hypothetical situation.
But in recent conversations, the Republicans have stood by their efforts to challenge Biden’s victory.
“This country would have been much better off” if Congress had taken up his plan, Cruz recently told The Associated Press.
Cruz had proposed forming a commission to audit voter fraud in the disputed states, even though Trump’s own Justice Department said there was no voter fraud on a scale that could have tipped the 2020 election. Dozens of court cases claiming fraud had been rejected or gone unheard.
Cruz said he did not recall conversations with Trump ally John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who was the architect of the alternative electors plan. Last month, federal authorities seized Eastman’s phone and issued subpoenas to electors in states nationwide allegedly involved in the scheme.
“I wrestled for a long time with what was the best approach to take with regard to the certification on Jan. 6,” Cruz said. He said he alone drafted the statement he put out with 11 senators, which he said he dashed off on the flight back to Washington.
Hawley has brushed off questions about the committee’s work, and declined last month to comment about Eastman’s plans for the alternative electors.
One police officer testified to the committee that Hawley’s raised fist on Jan. 6 “riled up the crowd” that day, said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va. During last week’s hearing, she played the video showing how Hawley “fled after those protesters he helped to rile up stormed the Capitol.”
Johnson has downplayed his aide’s attempt to pass a fake slate of electors to Pence. The handoff never took place, but the moment showed how close the plan came to fruition. If it had been successful, the electoral votes for Michigan and Wisconsin could have gone to Trump, not Biden, the rightful winner in those states.
After police cleared the Capitol of rioters that night, seven Republican senators led by Cruz and Hawley stuck with the plan to challenge the election results. Several of the other GOP senators who had initially signed on backed out.
At least one Republican who voted to challenge the election results after the rioting, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, said Tuesday he would talk to the committee if they asked for his testimony,
“I’d go,” said Tuberville, who took a phone call from Trump as senators were being swept to safety. Tuberville was also among senators who had received a voicemail from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that night, the committee has said.
Tuberville said he hasn’t been watching the hearings. “There’s nothing, anything, that I’ve seen that would change my mind on anything that I’ve voted on,” he said.
The first hearing, aired in prime time and watched by more than 20 million viewers, set the stage for the next seven.
It laid out the conclusion that the panel would come back to in every hearing: that Trump conspired to overturn his own defeat, taking actions that sparked the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters beat police and broke through windows and doors to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory.
“January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6th, to overthrow the government,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “The violence was no accident. It represents seeing Trump’s last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”
Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards (pictured), one of two witnesses at the first hearing, described what she saw outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 as a “war scene.” As some Republicans, including Trump, have tried to play down the violence of the insurrection, calling it “peaceful,” Edwards recalled the brutality she experienced on the front lines. She suffered a traumatic head injury that day as some of the first protesters barreled through the flimsy bike rack barriers that she and other officers were trying to hold.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Edwards testified. “There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. … It was carnage. It was chaos.”
The committee has used clips of its interview with former Attorney General Bill Barr (pictured) in almost every hearing, showing the public over and over his definitive statements that the election was not stolen by Biden — and Barr's description of Trump’s resistance as he told the president the truth.
At the second hearing, the committee showed a clip of Barr recalling how he told Trump to his face that the Justice Department had found no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that Trump was claiming. Barr said he thought Trump had become “detached from reality” if he really believed his own theories and said there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
“And my opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud and I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that,” Barr said.
One question going into the hearings was what Trump and Vice President Mike Pence talked about in a phone call the morning of Jan. 6. The conversation came after Trump had pressured his vice president for weeks to try and somehow object or delay as he presided over Biden’s certification. Pence firmly resisted and would gavel down Trump's defeat — and his own — in the early hours of Jan. 7, after rioters had been cleared from the Capitol.
While only Trump and Pence were on the Jan. 6 call, White House aides filled in some details at the committee’s third hearing by recounting what they heard Trump say on his end of the line.
“Wimp is the word I remember,” said former Trump aide Nicholas Luna. “You’re not tough enough,” recalled Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser. “It became heated” after starting out in a calmer tone, said White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.
“It was a different tone than I’d heard him take with the vice president before,” said Ivanka Trump.
Encouraged by Trump’s tweet, after the attack had started, that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done,” rioters at the Capitol singled out the vice president. Many chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they moved through the building. Pence evacuated the Senate just minutes before the chamber was breached, and later was rushed to safety as rioters were just 40 feet away.
Greg Jacob, the president’s lawyer, testified at the third hearing and said he had not known they were that close.
Jacob said Secret Service agents wanted them to leave the building but Pence refused to get in the car. “The vice president didn’t want to take any chance” that the world would see him leaving the Capitol, Jacob said.
At the committee’s fourth hearing, state officials detailed the extraordinary pressure the president put on them to overturn their states’ legitimate and certified results. Rusty Bowers (pictured), Arizona’s House speaker, told the committee how Trump asked him directly to appoint alternate electors, falsely stating that he had won the state of Arizona and not Biden.
Bowers detailed additional calls with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “I will not do it,” Bowers told him, adding: “You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”
Georgia election workers Wandrea “Shaye” Moss (left) and her mother, Ruby Freeman, also testified in the fourth hearing, describing constant threats after Trump and his allies spread false rumors that they introduced suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of election fraud. The Justice Department debunked those claims.
The two women said they had their lives upended by Trump’s false claims and his efforts to go after them personally. Through tears, Moss told lawmakers that she no longer leaves her house.
In videotaped testimony, Freeman said there is “nowhere I feel safe” after the harassment she experienced.
When his efforts to overturn his defeat failed in the courts and in the states, Trump turned his focus to the leadership of the Justice Department.
Richard Donoghue (right), the acting No. 2 at the time, testified about his resistance to entreaties by another department official, Jeffrey Clark, who was circulating a draft letter recommending that battleground states reconsider the election results. Trump at one point floated replacing then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (center) with Clark, but backed down after Donoghue and others threatened to resign.
“For the department to insert itself into the political process this way, I think would have had grave consequences for the country,” Donoghue testified. “It may very well have spiraled us into a constitutional crisis.”
In a surprise sixth hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson (pictured) recounted some of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, including his dismissive response when told that some in the crowd waiting for him to speak outside the White House were armed.
“I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t effing care that they have weapons,’” Hutchinson said. “'They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effin’ mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.'”
Upset that the crowd didn’t appear larger, Trump told his aides to take the metal-detecting magnetometers away. In the coming hours, he would step on the stage and tell them to “fight like hell.”
Hutchinson also described Trump’s anger after security officials told him he couldn’t go to the Capitol with his supporters after he had told them he would. She said she was told that the president even grabbed the steering wheel in the presidential SUV when he was told he couldn’t go.
For the president to have visited the Capitol during Biden’s certification, and as his supporters descended on the building, would have been unprecedented.
At its seventh hearing, the committee painstakingly reconstructed a Dec. 18 meeting at the White House where outside advisers to Trump pushing election fraud claims clashed with White House lawyers and others who were telling him to give up the fight.
The six-hour meeting featured profanity, screaming and threats of fisticuffs, according to the participants, as Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and others threw out conspiracy theories, including that the Democrats were working with Venezuelans and that voting machines were hacked. Pat Cipollone (pictured), the top White House lawyer, testified that he kept asking for evidence, to no avail.
Hours later, at 1:42 a.m., Trump sent a tweet urging supporters to come for a “big protest” on Jan. 6: “Will be wild,” Trump promised.
The final hearing focused on what Trump was doing for 187 minutes that afternoon, between his speech at the rally and when he finally released a video telling the rioters to go home at 4:17 p.m.
They showed that Trump was sitting at a dining room table near the Oval Office, watching Fox News coverage of the violence. But he made no calls for help — not to the Defense Department, the Homeland Security Department or the attorney general — even as his aides repeatedly told him to call it off.
In the video released at 4:17 p.m., as some of the worst of the fighting was still happening down the street, Trump told rioters to go home but said they were “very special.”
The committee showed never-before-seen outtakes of a speech Trump released on Jan. 7 in which he condemned the violence and promised an orderly transition of power. But he bristled at one line in the prepared script, telling his daughter Ivanka Trump and others in the room, “I don’t want to say the election is over.”
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File
FILE - Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., left, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, speak after Republicans objected to certifying the Electoral College votes from Arizona, during a joint session of the House and Senate to confirm the electoral votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol, Jan 6, 2021.