Donald J. Trump served as the 45th president of the United States, holding office from Jan. 20, 2017–Jan. 20, 2021. After losing the popular vote to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the 2016 presidential election, he implemented a host of divisive right-wing policies that shocked U.S. allies around the world—issuing an executive order to prevent citizens from Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., abandoning the Iran nuclear agreement, and withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, among many other controversial moves.
Since the 2020 campaign season, Trump and his allies—including hundreds of government officials throughout the country—worked nonstop to spread misinformation and fear about purported election fraud that would undermine his chances of reelection. This included lies about the vulnerability of mail-in ballots, which resulted in Twitter fact-checking and putting warning labels on his tweets. His baseless claims of election fraud have continued after election day on Nov. 3, 2020, and were amplified by members of his administration such as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and legal advisors such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell, and Sydney Powell.
On Jan. 6, 2021, these escalating lies about a stolen election culminated in Trump inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that sent lawmakers attempting to certify Biden’s victory running for safety and led to five deaths, extensive property damage, and ongoing concerns about the future of democracy in the U.S.
January 6, 2021
- While speaking at the March to Save America rally on the Ellipse, Trump implored his supporters to proceed to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” telling them that he would be there, too. According to congressional testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, when his Secret Service bodyguards told him it was too dangerous to travel to the Capitol, Trump was enraged and attempted to grab the steering wheel from the driver.
- During the 187 minutes between the end of his speech at the rally and the release of a video message in which he finally told his supporters to “go home,” Trump reportedly sulked in the White House, ignoring pleas from senior staff and family members to do more to stop the violence at the Capitol.
- A day after the insurrection, Trump succumbed to pressure from key aides and family members to make a speech acknowledging that Biden would assume the presidency on Jan. 20, 2021. In outtakes from the speech shared by the House Select Committee, Trump did not want to admit that the election was over, explaining in protest: “I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election is over.”
- On Jan. 6, Mark Meadows was in the White House with other presidential staffers when numerous parties, including Donald Trump Jr., repeatedly urged him to do something to stop the insurrection. Although Meadows said he was “pushing it hard” to get the former president to tell the mob to stand down, several West Wing staff members have expressed dismay that Meadows did not condemn the insurrection himself or attempt to get Trump to call off the attack.
- Rudy Guiliani, who said that the insurrection was perpetrated by Democrats and the Left to “frame” Trump, spoke at the March to Save America that preceded the assault on the Capitol. During his remarks, he called for a “trial by combat.” After lawmakers resumed the certification process, Guiliani tried to convince specific Republicans to delay the process once more. For instance, when speaking with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Guiliani said “try to just slow it [the certification] down.”
- During the insurrection, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany received frantic text messages from Trump supporters—including FoxNews host Sean Hannity, who texted her to advise that there should be “no more stolen election talk.” McEnany replied “Love that. Thank you. That is the playbook. I will help reinforce….” Yet, the next day she tried to distance the Trump administration from the attack on the Capitol, stating: “Those who violently besieged our Capitol are the opposite of everything that this administration stands for.”
- Numerous Trump Administration officials resigned following Trump’s incitement of the insurrection, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and former Chief of Staff/Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney. In her letter of resignation, DeVos blamed Trump directly, writing: “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.” However, once they resigned, these officials did little to hold Trump to account for his actions.
- The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack interviewed multiple members of the Trump administration to learn more about discussions regarding invocation of the 25th Amendment following the Capitol attack. In July and August 2022, committee members spoke with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about conversations they had had regarding Trump’s capacity to fulfill his duties in the interim between the insurrection and Biden’s inauguration. The interviews took place after Hutchinson, the aide to Meadows who testified at one of the committee’s televised hearings, said that “there was a large concern of the 25th Amendment potentially being invoked, and there were concerns about what would happen in the Senate if it was.”