As then-President Donald Trump left a rally with his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, he appears to have held out hope until the last minute — even as chaos unfolded — that he’d be able to join them at the Capitol.
Trump even raised the prospect privately with the head of his Secret Service detail at the time, Robert Engel, according to a person familiar with the agent’s congressional testimony. Engel rode with Trump in the presidential armored car called “The Beast” back to the White House after the Ellipse rally that preceded that day’s violent riot.
Engel told Jan. 6 select committee investigators that the two men discussed Trump’s desire to go to the Capitol and took different views on the topic. Engel noted that they went back to the White House instead of heading to Capitol Hill. The contents of Engel’s testimony have not been previously reported. Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment.
The testimony shows just how much Trump wanted to be at the Capitol with his backers as Congress voted to certify his Electoral College loss to Joe Biden. And he expressed his desire to join the protesters even as violence was unfolding.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
At about 12:45 p.m., during Trump’s Jan. 6 speech, law enforcement officials headed to the Republican National Committee headquarters because a pipe bomb had been found there. That building just steps away from the Capitol building. Around the same time, according to a Washington Post timeline, Trump supporters clashed with police and began to move onto restricted grounds around the Capitol.
At about 1:10 p.m., Trump indicated in his speech that he would go to the Capitol.
“We’re going to the Capitol,” he said. “We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
When Secret Service agents heard the remarks, they reached out to law enforcement partners about the feasibility of transporting the president to the Capitol, as the Post first reported. Engel opposed the move, saying it would have been unfeasible.
Engel’s testimony stands in stark contrast to a claim from former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Trump’s then-chief of staff. In his book “The Chief’s Chief,” Meadows wrote that Trump told him right after the speech that he was “speaking metaphorically” when he said he wanted to go to the Capitol.
Trump “knew as well as anyone that we couldn’t organize a trip like that on such short notice,” Meadows wrote, as The Guardian reported.
Meadows has refused to answer questions from committee investigators. Lawmakers voted, largely along party lines, to refer him to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress charges. But DOJ revealed recently that it will not prosecute him.
The Secret Service, meanwhile, has fully cooperated with the congressional Jan. 6 probe, according to Guglielmi. He added that Secret Service personnel appeared before the select panel without having to be subpoenaed.
The Jan. 6 select committee is gearing up to start rolling out its findings this week. Its first hearing, airing Thursday at 8 p.m., will feature a Capitol Police officer who was injured during the attack and a documentary filmmaker who taped far-right extremists before and during the violence. More hearings are expected this month, and the committee is negotiating with potential witnesses about appearances.
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