Within minutes of the US Capitol breach on January 6, 2021, messages began pouring into the cell phone of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Among those texting were Republican members of Congress, former members of the Trump administration, GOP activists, Fox personalities – even the President’s son. Their texts all carried the same urgent plea: President Donald Trump needed to immediately denounce the violence and tell the mob to go home.
“He’s got to condem (sic) this shit. Asap,” Donald Trump Jr. texted at 2:53 p.m.
“POTUS needs to calm this shit down,” GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina wrote at 3:04 p.m.
“TELL THEM TO GO HOME !!!” former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus messaged at 3:09 p.m.
“POTUS should go on air and defuse this. Extremely important,” Tom Price, former Trump health and human services secretary and a former GOP representative from Georgia, texted at 3:13 p.m.
“Fix this now,” wrote GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas at 3:15 p.m.
One of the key questions the January 6 House committee is expected to raise in its June hearings is why Trump failed to publicly condemn the attack for hours, and whether that failure is proof of “dereliction of duty” and evidence that Trump tried to obstruct Congress’ certification of the election.
The Meadows texts show that even those closest to the former President believed he had the power to stop the violence in real time.
CNN obtained the 2,319 text messages that Meadows selectively handed over to the January 6 committee in December before he stopped cooperating with the investigation. According to a source familiar with the committee’s investigation, the texts provide a valuable “road map” and show how Meadows was an enabler of Trump, despite being told there was no widespread election fraud.
Seventeen months later, CNN spoke to more than a dozen people who had texted Meadows that day, including former White House officials, Republican members of Congress and political veterans. Without exception, each said they stood by their texts and that they believed Trump had the power and responsibility to try to stop the attack immediately.
“I thought the President could stop it and was the only person who could stop it,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, who was Trump’s director of strategic communications until she left the White House in December 2020. Farah Griffin is now a CNN political commentator.
“When he finally tweeted something hours and hours later, there are reports of people inside the building saying, ‘He’s saying to go home.’ They would have listened to him,” she added.
Farah Griffin texted Meadows at 3:13 p.m. that day: “Potus has to come out firmly and tell protesters to dissipate. Someone is going to get killed.”
Trump’s former acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, also texted Meadows on January 6: “Mark: he needs to stop this, now. Can I do anything to help?”
Mulvaney told CNN he stands by his text. “I wish someone had responded to my outreach,” he said.
Most of the people who spoke to CNN about their texts on January 6 would be quoted only anonymously. Some said it was because of their jobs. Some said they were afraid Trump would be reelected. One said they just didn’t want to go through “the misery of being targeted by Trump supporters.”
Their words were blunt, emotional and damning, even those who remain staunch Trump allies.
“I thought there was only one person who could stop it and that was the President,” said a senior Republican. “I don’t know that I can think of another situation that was as grave for the nation, or as affecting for the nation, where the President didn’t say something.”
A Meadows associate said Trump had waited too long to act: “Two hours is just inexcusable … when the safety of the federal government is in question you have the duty immediately to speak out. And Trump was derelict in that duty.”
Another political veteran said Trump’s silence made him complicit: “I think he knew he could stop it, which is why he remained silent.”
And a former Trump administration official summed it up with this stark assessment: “He failed at being the president.”
An attorney for Meadows did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the January 6 committee also did not respond to a request for comment.
‘I’m very worried about the next 48 hours’
The Meadows text logs present a dramatic timeline of how friends, colleagues and Republican allies were pleading for help on January 6.
Rioters stormed police barriers around the Capitol just after 1 p.m. that day. The House and Senate fled their chambers around 2:20 p.m. Yet it took Trump until 4:17 p.m. to release a video on Twitter telling the rioters to go home.
The upcoming January 6 hearings are expected to focus on the gap of 187 minutes it took Trump to release the video – as well as highlight some of the most notable texts that Meadows received and sent that day.
The logs are not a complete record of Meadows’ texts – he withheld more than 1,000 messages, claiming executive privilege, according to the committee. But the messages Meadows did hand over show his responses were often terse and emotionless, if he replied at all.
Two sources familiar with the committee’s investigation said it was remarkable that Meadows never seemed alarmed in the messages he sent on January 6, and that even in the midst of the violence, he appeared unwilling to stand up to Trump. “Even Don Jr. knew the right thing to do,” one source told CNN.
On January 5, the Meadows text logs show that the chief of staff was still actively involved with plans to object to the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election victory, encouraging Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to pass on evidence of voter fraud.
“Last night Sen Graham told me that if I found 100 names of dead voters in GA that he would object. I have 100 dead voters names!! Tell President Trump!” Greene, a Georgia Republican, texted Meadows at 2:30 p.m.
“Send them to him,” Meadows responded, making sure she had Graham’s cell phone number.
At 10:29 p.m., Fox’s Sean Hannity chimed in with an apprehensive message over what was to come.
“I’m very worried about the next 48 hours,” Hannity texted Meadows. “Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.”
Meadows did not reply directly, but he appeared to have called Hannity, who texted that he couldn’t pick up the phone.
“On with boss,” Hannity texted, an apparent reference to Trump.
The last message Meadows received on January 5 is from his close friend and Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Shortly before midnight, Jordan forwarded a message making the case that Vice President Mike Pence “should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.”
‘I have pushed for this’
The morning of January 6, Meadows woke up to three problems: logistics for that day’s rally on the Ellipse, Pence’s refusal to join Trump’s attempts to subvert the election and the US Senate runoffs the day before in Georgia, where both Republicans were trailing.
At 7:30 a.m., Meadows responded to Jordan’s message from the night before, acknowledging his support for Pence to reject the electoral votes. “I have pushed for this,” Meadows wrote back. “Not sure it is going to happen.”
Meadows then turned his attention to the January 6 rally, where Trump was slated to speak later that morning. Meadows had been involved with the fraught internal drama over the speaker’s list in the days leading up to the event.
Meadows checked in to make sure one of the speakers, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, knew he was supposed to appear.
“You are speaking this am. Are you aware,” Meadows asked at 8:08 a.m.
Brooks, who gave one of the more incendiary speeches of the day, responded at 9:33 a.m., after leaving the stage: “Did it in 10m. Thanks! Crowd roaring.”
Jordan and Brooks are two of five House Republicans who have been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee.
At 11 a.m., Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller shared a tweet with Meadows and other top Trump aides capturing the darkening mood inside Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s camp with Democrats poised to take control of the Senate.
“Emotions running high among McConnell-aligned Republicans early Wednesday am — after reality of what transpired in Georgia settled in,” National Journal reporter Josh Kraushaar wrote in the tweet. “May be the heat of the moment, but mood is for declaring war on Team Trump.”
‘Someone is going to get killed’
At 1:05 p.m., while Trump was still addressing the crowd at the Ellipse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled in the joint session inside the Capitol to begin certifying Biden’s Electoral College win. Outside the Capitol, pro-Trump supporters were already breaking through police barriers.
Roughly an hour later, rioters clashed with police and breached the Capitol doors, forcing the House and Senate to abruptly gavel out of session and evacuate the chambers.
According to court filings, at 2:02 p.m. Meadows’ deputy Ben Williamson sent his boss a text message about the violence unfolding at the Capitol. The text is not included in the logs Meadows turned over, but Williamson provided it to the committee.
“Would recommend POTUS put out a tweet about respecting the police over at the Capitol – getting a little hairy over there,” Williamson wrote.
Williamson said he had then spoken to Meadows in person and that Meadows had immediately gone toward the Oval Office to inform Trump, according to court documents.
Shortly afterward, Meadows began receiving messages about the mob at the door.
“Will potus say something to tamp things down?” wrote CNN’s Jim Acosta at 2:12 p.m.
Despite Williamson’s advice urging the President to send a message about respecting the police, Trump tweeted again at 2:24 p.m., attacking his vice president.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Trump tweeted.
Four minutes later, Trump’s allies began imploring Meadows to convince the President to do something. The first message came from Greene.
“Mark I was just told there is an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol Please tell the President to calm people This isn’t the way to solve anything,” Greene wrote at 2:28 p.m.
Fox’s Laura Ingraham texted Meadows at 2:32 p.m., “Hey Mark, The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us.”
Meadows heard from local contacts, too, including one who castigated the White House chief of staff for his role leading up to the insurrection.
At 2:34 p.m., North Carolina-based Republican strategist Carlton Huffman wrote, “You’ve earned a special place in infamy for the events of today. And if you’re the Christian you claim to be in your heart you know that.”
“It’s really bad up here on the hill,” texted Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia at 2:44 p.m.
At 2:46 p.m., GOP Rep. Will Timmons of South Carolina wrote to Meadows: “The president needs to stop this ASAP.”
Several who texted Meadows told CNN they hoped their messages would convince the chief of staff to stand up to Trump and get him to stop the violence.
‘We love you, you’re very special’
At 2:48 p.m., Meadows responded to Loudermilk that “POTUS is engaging.” But Trump would not tell the rioters to leave the Capitol for another hour and a half as messages continued to pour in from Trump allies, Meadows associates and reporters seeking a White House response.
Jonathan Karl of ABC News texted at 2:53 p.m., “What are you going to do to stop this? What is the president going to do?”
Karl said of his text to Meadows, “I was asking a question as a reporter who wanted to know what was happening inside the White House as the Capitol was being attacked. But I was also asking as an American horrified by what I was witnessing.”
Meadows received more messages from contacts in his home state urging Trump to intervene.
At 3:42 p.m., North Carolina-based lobbyist Tom Cors wrote, “Pls have POTUS call this off at the Capitol. Urge rioters to disperse. I pray to you.”
At 3:52 p.m., North Carolina lawyer Jay Leutze texted, “Mark, this assault in the Capitol is tragic for the country. Please call it off so the Congress can resume its peaceful debate.”
Finally, at 4:17 p.m., Trump released a video message telling the rioters to leave the Capitol. The video he tweeted was just over a minute long.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt,” Trump said. “We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.”
Trump concluded, “So go home. We love you, you’re very special. You’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home and go home in peace.”
‘Good that you made that video’
Trump’s video helped ease some of the pressure being directed toward Meadows. Priebus, a former White House chief of staff, told Meadows at 4:20 p.m., “Good that you made that video.”
The video also wasn’t Trump’s final word. At 6:01 p.m., he sent another tweet once again falsely claiming fraud. Trump’s Twitter account was suspended a little over an hour later before he was ultimately banned from the platform.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump tweeted. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
That evening, Meadows received numerous queries from reporters asking about the fallout of the insurrection, such as questions about whether Cabinet secretaries were resigning or considering invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. He was asked about Pence’s situation, too, including by Hannity, who texted at 7:57 p.m., “Wth is happening with VPOTUS.” Meadows does not appear to have responded.
Several reporters also texted Meadows asking whether he personally was considering resigning.
“Off the record. No,” he responded at 10:21 p.m. to reporter Al Weaver of The Hill.
‘Mrs. Trump has also signed off’
While rioters were still being cleared from the Capitol, there were questions about whether the House and Senate would reconvene to finish counting the electoral votes. Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers vowed to do so.
At 8:06 p.m., Pence gaveled the Senate back into session.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol,” he began from the Senate dais.
The vice president condemned the violence and said the reassembled lawmakers were there to defend and support the Constitution. “Let’s get back to work,” he concluded to loud cheers.
After two months of trying to overturn the 2020 election, the Meadows text logs show, Trump’s team had prepared a draft statement once the certification was complete, which said there “will be an orderly transition on January 20th.”
In a group text at 10:01 p.m., Trump campaign spokesman Miller reached out to Meadows, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump aide Dan Scavino. “Chief, Jared, Dan - below please find an approved statement from the President to go out right as they’re finalizing the votes, which we’re expecting to be 3am, though with some Members caving it could happen earlier,” Miller texted. “Mrs. Trump has also signed off.”
Kushner weighed in with a suggestion about how to release the statement. “Why don’t we post on his Facebook page since he isn’t locked out there,” Kushner wrote, after Trump had been suspended from Twitter a few hours earlier.
“I’ll be up,” responded Scavino, “let me know when ok to drop, and it’s official…just got off w/them.”
In the end, Scavino tweeted the statement from his personal account at 3:49 a.m. on January 7, five minutes after Biden’s win was finally certified and Pence gaveled out the joint session of Congress.