During the “season finale” of the Jan. 6 House committee’s public hearings last week, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va, co-led a presentation that showcased former President Donald Trump’s inaction during the attack on the Capitol. It reinforced a well-established point: Former President Trump struggles to stick to a script and can’t seem to resist ad-libbing. But it’s in those unscripted moments that he is often the most honest about his schemes and motives. When Trump finally relented and recorded a video message telling the mob attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to disperse, every word of praise he uttered for the insurrectionists, including “We love you,” was made up on the spot and was inconsistent with the prepared text he’d been given.
On Monday Luria released to Twitter a video that shows fragments of text Trump removed from statement he posted the next day. At last week’s hearing, the committee showed outtakes from Trump recording his remarks on Jan. 7, 2021. Now we can see a draft of that statement, complete with marked-up text in what appears to be black Sharpie, Trump’s writing implement of choice. (Ivanka Trump confirms in her testimony that the handwriting on the text looks to be her father’s.)
He cut most of a paragraph about the consequences for the perpetrators of the attack, including: “I am directing the Department of Justice to ensure all lawbreakers are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We must send a clear message — not with mercy but with JUSTICE. Legal consequences must be swift and firm.”
Even more damning is what he cut from the next paragraph, which addressed “those who engaged in acts of violence and destruction.” He cut: “I want to be very clear: you do not represent me. You do not represent our movement.” He also tweaked the next line — “And if you broke the law, you belong in jail” — to say instead that lawbreakers “will pay.”
He knew whose side they were on all along — and that he might need to call on them again in the future.
Those deletions say volumes about his frame of mind and feelings about the violence from the previous day. The people who broke through the doors and windows of the Capitol, battered Capitol police officers, and hunted for then-Vice President Mike Pence did represent Trump. He knew they did and didn’t want to speak out against them or expel them from his movement. He knew whose side they were on all along — and that he might need to call on them again in the future.
There are a lot of things that now make sense in hindsight thanks to the committee’s investigation. For example, the administration never uploaded a transcript of the remarks to the White House website, instead only including a link to it in a brief statement from press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Why highlight a video that Trump never wanted to record?
White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the committee that Trump was only convinced to go ahead with the recorded remarks in response to talk about him being removed from office via the 25th Amendment. What he delivered was the bare minimum necessary to convince those who already wanted to believe that Trump was appalled by the assault on lawmakers.
There’s an obvious cut in the Jan. 7 video the White House released and the committee showed us why. One take stops when Trump argues with his staff over the line in his script that “the election is over.” The video then picks up where his recitation restarts. Because of testimony to the committee, we also know Trump was lying when he said on that video that he had “immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.” Pence made those calls, as several officials testified.
But the 59 words he ran his Sharpie through speak the loudest. They say that Trump was never willing to distance himself from his supporters, no matter how heinous their actions. They show that he still wanted their adoration even as he paid lip service to the importance of obeying the law. Those deleted words make clear that he would rather have embraced the attackers than demonize them.