One of the key questions during former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial has been what he did while it happened. When did he find out about the January 6 breach at the US Capitol, and what did he do to stop it?
But Trump’s legal team refused to answer the question on Friday when Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) asked. Instead, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen blamed House impeachment managers for not telling them.
“With the rush to bring this impeachment, there’s been absolutely no investigation into that,” he said. “That’s the problem with this entire proceeding. The House managers did zero investigation.”
Trump’s team, of course, has access to the man who would know best: the former president himself. House Democrats asked to speak with Trump, but his team immediately declined, calling the request a “stunt.”
Soon after Collins, Democratic senators Ed Markey (Massachusetts) and Tammy Duckworth (Illinois) asked the same question, this time directed to the House managers.
Impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett suggested that Trump could have known what was going on almost right away.
“This attack was on live TV,” she said.
As for what Trump did about it, Plaskett said: “The reason this question keeps coming up is because the answer is, ‘Nothing.’”
Another key question from the trial is when Trump knew that his vice president, Mike Pence, was in danger. Trump had criticised Pence for refusing to object to the election results, and at 2.24 pm (local time) on January 6 he tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution… USA demands the truth!”
In his list of questions, Republican senator Mitt Romney also wanted to know when Trump knew of the breach and about the timing of his Pence tweets, according to text of questions his staff sent reporters.
Between 2.14 pm, when Pence was escorted from the floor, and 2.26 pm, when he was taken to a secure location, Pence was hiding with his family, according to impeachment managers. Some of the rioters were on camera chanting “hang Mike Pence” and had erected a gallows outside. The insurrectionists came within 100 feet of the vice president, Plaskett told senators earlier this week.
Republican senator Tommy Tuberville revealed on Wednesday evening that Trump had called him just as the mob reached the outside of the Senate chamber. “I said ‘Mr President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville told Politico. This suggests that Trump knew Pence was at risk before he tweeted.
When asked about the matter, van der Veen said that Trump did not know Pence was in danger at the time. He said that Trump was not aware, but that either way, it was not relevant to an impeachment charge about whether Trump incited violence.
“Because the House rushed through this impeachment in seven days there’s almost no evidence,” van der Veen said.
The lawyer noted that at 2.38 pm, Trump tweeted: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
The Washington Post reported that Trump had to be talked into including the words “stay peaceful.”
Later during the question period, Republican senator Bill Cassidy, a potential swing vote, asked why Trump had attacked Pence on Twitter after he knew he’d been evacuated, noting Tuberville’s remarks. Again, van der Veen said Trump was not aware of that situation and said he was sure Trump was concerned about his vice president.
According to reports, Trump did not call Pence that day or over the following days. The two did not speak for five days after the riot.
Of course, there is a way to get more evidence: Trump or one of the others with knowledge of the situation could be called in to testify.
But most Republicans have already indicated they plan to acquit Trump. Neither side is likely to call for witnesses. What Trump did on January 6 may stay a mystery.