Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr and three hosts on the Fox News network begged then White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to persuade the former president to stop the 6 January insurrection despite their public efforts to downplay it, newly released text messages show.
The sense of panic that enveloped the former president’s inner circle during the attack on the US Capitol was revealed on Monday when Congresswoman Liz Cheney, vice-chair of a House select committee investigating the riot, read aloud texts sent to Meadows.
“We need an Oval address,” Trump Jr wrote as his father’s supporters were storming the Capitol, sending members of Congress running for their lives and delaying the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. “He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Trump Jr added: “He’s got to condemn this shit asap.”
In response, Meadows texted: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Cheney also made public frantic messages from three Fox News presenters who became notorious as cheerleaders for the Trump administration and for fanning the flames of his lies about voter fraud. Crossing a line from journalists to informal advisers, they urged Meadows to push Trump to act quickly to stop the siege by his supporters.
Laura Ingraham, the host of The Ingraham Angle, wrote: “Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
Yet later that night Ingraham went on air baselessly shifting blame from Trump’s supporters to the anti-fascist movement antifa. She told viewers: “From a chaotic Washington tonight, earlier today the Capitol was under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the Maga [Make America Great Again] movement. Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathisers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.”
Brian Kilmeade, co-host of the morning show Fox & Friends, on which Trump appeared regularly, wrote to the chief of staff on 6 January: “Please, get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
And Sean Hannity, a prime time host who once appeared onstage with Trump at a campaign rally, texted Meadows: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
But later, on his broadcast, Hannity said: “Our election, frankly, was a train wreck. Eighty-three per cent, according to Gallup, of Republicans, and millions of others, do not have faith in these election results. You can’t just snap your finger and hope that goes away.”
Trump has been widely condemned for his casual response to insurrection, which had been raging for three hours before he finally released a video urging the mob: “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.” A few hours later he tweeted: “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Since then the ex-president, Trump Jr and rightwing media have spent months seeking to minimise the events of 6 January, which resulted in five deaths and more than 500 arrests. Trump has claimed that rioters were “hugging and kissing” police.
Last month another Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, produced a three-part documentary, Patriot Purge, for the Fox Nation streaming platform that pushed the lie that the insurrection was a “false flag” operation designed to hurt Trump’s supporters. “January 6 is being used as a pretext to strip millions of Americans – disfavoured Americans – of their core constitutional rights,” he insisted.
But Monday’s fresh insight into the symbiotic relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News show that those close to the president realised that gravity of what was unfolding and how damaging it could be.
Cheney said the texts show Trump’s “supreme dereliction” as he refused to strongly condemn the violence of his supporters. “These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.”
Amanda Carpenter, a former communications director to Senator Ted Cruz, wrote on the Bulwark website: “These texts prove something essential. No matter what they say now, Trump’s loyalists knew at the time that what was happening at the Capitol was not a peaceful protest.
“They knew that it was a dangerous attack on American democracy. And they knew that Trump was responsible for it. That’s why they sent the texts pleading with him, through his staff, to make it stop.”
The texts were among almost 9,000 documents that Meadows turned over to the committee before he ceased cooperation. Cheney disclosed only a tiny fraction, raising the prospect of further embarrassments to come for Trump’s allies.
The committee voted 9-0 to recommend that Meadows, himself a former members of the House, be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena. The full House is set to vote on Tuesday to refer the charges to the justice department.
The hearing was not broadcast on Fox News but Meadows appeared on the network soon after the vote but there was no mention of the revelatory texts. He told Hannity: “This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.”
Two longtime Fox News contributors, Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, resigned last month in protest at Carlson’s Patriot Purge programme. Chris Wallace, host of the network’s flagship Sunday politics programme, resigned on Sunday after 18 years to join CNN’s new streaming platform.