Never-before-seen footage, obtained exclusively by CNN, shows in vivid new detail how congressional leaders fled the US Capitol on January 6 and transformed a nearby military base into a command center, where they frantically coordinated with Vice President Mike Pence and Trump Cabinet members to quell the insurrection and finish certifying the 2020 election.
The January 6 select committee aired snippets of the footage at its public hearing on Thursday, but CNN has obtained roughly an hour of additional material that wasn’t presented by the panel.
Congressional leaders contemplated, far more seriously than previously known, whether to reconvene the Electoral College proceedings at Fort McNair, the footage obtained by CNN reveals. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Pence about the “backup plan,” and officials tried to figure out how they’d transport hundreds of lawmakers to the Army base.
The extended raw footage shines a devastating light on then-President Donald Trump’s inaction during the riot. Lawmakers are seen working around Trump to secure any help they could get – from the National Guard, federal agencies and local police departments – to defeat the mob he incited.
The footage was captured by Alexandra Pelosi, a documentary filmmaker and daughter of the Democratic speaker of the House. The filmmaker provided some of her behind-the-scenes footage to the January 6 select committee, which aired an edited compilation at Thursday’s hearing.
“Everyone involved was working actively to stop the violence, to get federal law enforcement deployed to the scene to put down the violence and secure the Capitol complex,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said about the footage at the hearing. “All of them did what President Trump was not doing, what he simply refused to do.”
It has been known since January 6, 2021, that congressional leaders from both parties were hastily evacuated to Fort McNair, which is about two miles south of the Capitol. But prior to Thursday, the public has seen very little footage from inside the base, and the new tapes show for the first time Pelosi’s rushed exit from the Capitol and into an SUV that took her to the base.
The new clips show chaotic scenes of Democrats and Republicans working the phones at Fort McNair, sometimes together, trying to figure out what was going on at the overrun Capitol, and begging for help.
In one dramatic scene, then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer shouted at the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, after hearing a rumor that Trump blocked the DC National Guard from rushing to the Capitol.
“I’d like to know a good God damn reason why it’s been denied,” Schumer said. “Please – the whole Capitol is rampaged. There is a picture of someone sitting in the chair of the Senate. We’ve all been evacuated. There have been shots fired. We need a full National Guard component, now.”
McCarthy then assures Schumer that there was no stand-down order for the National Guard.
And in another shocking moment, Schumer and Pelosi are seen chewing out the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. In a heated phone call, Schumer told Rosen that federal authorities should “make arrests, starting now,” but Rosen only offered a halting, non-committal response.
“Um, I have to defer to law enforcement on that,” Rosen replied.
‘Don’t let anybody know where you are’
Most of the raw footage shows Pelosi’s movements on January 6, and Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary crew provided CNN with timestamps for the videos. Perhaps the most consequential revelations are the phone calls between Pence and Pelosi, who were first and second in the line of succession.
Their first call in the footage happened around 4:20 p.m. ET. Pelosi asks Pence about his well-being and his physical safety, before discussing the possibility of resuming the joint session of Congress at Fort McNair, so lawmakers could complete the ceremonial process of finalizing Biden’s victory.
“We’re at Fort McNair, which has facilities for the House and the Senate to meet, as a backup plan … should anything happen that would warrant that,” Pelosi says. “We’d rather go to the Capitol and do it there, but it doesn’t seem to be safe.”
Pelosi went on to tell Pence that she had been told it would take “days” for the Capitol to be secured, and thus, “we logistically want to bring all the members here, House and Senate.” But that never materialized: rank-and-file lawmakers and congressional staffers stayed inside the Capitol throughout the siege, with many barricading themselves in their offices.
“I worry about you being in that Capitol room,” Pelosi tells Pence, who was holed up in a loading dock underneath the Capitol with his security detail. “Don’t let anybody know where you are.”
Pelosi tells the vice president that she heard reports of “defecation” on the House floor.
The House speaker says she consulted with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about trying to “expedite” the GOP objections to President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes, so they could raise one objection and then “move forward” with the election certification. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, opposed the objections but several Trump-aligned GOP senators were still trying to nullify Biden’s victories in several key states.
During the call, Pelosi unwraps a beef jerky stick and eats it, while holding the phone with her other hand.
‘If he comes, I’m going to punch him out’
Earlier in the previously unseen footage, on the morning of January 6, Pelosi participates in a video call with the House Democratic caucus to plan out the day’s proceedings. A devout Catholic, Pelosi invokes the Feast of the Epiphany, which is on January 6, and says she hoped that Republicans “would have their own epiphany” that day.
The call took place in Pelosi’s same conference room that was ransacked just a few hours later by riotous Trump supporters, some of whom specifically said they wanted to hunt her down.
Pelosi is later seen reacting to Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, where he told his supporters to march to the Capitol, and said he’d be there with them to protest the election certification.
“Tell him, if he comes here, we’re going to the White House,” Pelosi quips, with a laugh.
Then, Pelosi’s chief of staff notifies her that the Secret Service “dissuaded (Trump) from coming to Capitol Hill.” It’s unclear how the aide learned this. But the footage backs up the testimony of Trump White House official Cassidy Hutchinson, who told the January 6 committee about Trump’s attempts to force his security detail to take him to the Capitol, but they overruled him.
Pelosi responds to the news with a straight face, telling nearby aides: “If he comes, I’m going to punch him out. I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds, I’m going to punch him out. And I’m going to go to jail, and I’m going to be happy.”
‘We have got to finish the proceedings’
As Pelosi exits her office and heads to the House chamber, the footage shows congressional aides carrying the all-important boxes containing the official Electoral College certificates. The proceedings begin, with Pence presiding, and GOP lawmakers quickly file their first objection.
Throngs of Trump supporters soon started swarming the Capitol complex. The shaky video footage shows Pelosi and her entourage of staff and family members getting whisked away from the building, escaping the fast-approaching rioters and descending down a narrow staircase
“If they stop the proceedings, we will have totally failed,” Pelosi says, as she evacuated the Capitol, adding later, “We have got to finish the proceedings, or else they will have a complete victory.”
On her way out, she asks aides if they were able to reach McConnell, and whether he was on board to jointly request emergency assistance from the National Guard. (He was, they said.)
Resettled at Fort McNair, Pelosi learns that some House members were trapped in the chamber and were instructed by security officials to put on their government-issued gas masks. Pelosi and her colleagues later watch the riot unfolding on CNN, the footage shows. They were visibly shaken by the TV coverage.
‘One hell of a hurry’
The extended footage obtained by CNN shows congressional leaders from both parties taking refuge at Fort McNair.
Democratic leaders Pelosi and Schumer, as well as top-ranking Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, are seen throughout the raw footage. They were joined by top Republicans, like McConnell, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Sen John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Minority Whip.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, is also in the footage, taking refuge at Fort McNair. His presence is notable considering his trajectory after the insurrection: McCarthy confronted Trump in a heated call during the attack, and directly blamed Trump in the immediate aftermath, but days later re-embraced Trump and began downplaying the riot.
One scene from the footage, around 3:18 p.m. ET, shows some of the senior Democratic officials talking again with Ryan McCarthy, the Army secretary. Schumer was apparently under the impression that the military response was impeded.
“I never said no,” Ryan McCarthy says, about activating the National Guard. “I just had to get permission.” Without naming any names, Ryan McCarthy then tells the lawmakers that he “had to talk to my boss.” It’s not clear who the Army leader was referring to, but acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller was technically his boss.
Miller did not speak with Trump on January 6, according to the House select committee investigating the attack. Miller did speak that day with Pence, who took on an impromptu leadership role that day, working with congressional leaders and Capitol security officials, and the footage clearly shows Pence coordinating with Pelosi about the efforts to secure the Capitol.
Roughly 30 minutes later, approximately 10 lawmakers huddle around a phone in a bipartisan scrum to speak with Miller, the acting Defense secretary. Schumer presses Miller on the slow National Guard response, and informed Miller that some senators were trapped in their hideaway offices near the breached Senate chamber.
McConnell tells Miller that troops need to be “getting there in one hell of a hurry, you understand?”
“This is an emergency,” Schumer says, “where life and limb are at stake.”
The acting Pentagon chief tells the lawmakers that he got the message “loud and clear,” the troops had already been activated, and that plans to retake the Capitol were being devised by military leaders.
‘Answer my question!’
The clips show Pelosi speaking with then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, about sending troops, because he could directly activate the Virginia National Guard without presidential involvement. She additionally spoke with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, another Democrat, whose police department was on the frontlines that day.
There was also the showdown with Rosen, the acting attorney general. Schumer yells into his flip phone, castigating Rosen, and urges him to tell Trump to call off the mob. Rosen had little to offer Schumer, except to say he was mobilizing federal agents under his purview. Pelosi tells Rosen that the rioters were “breaking the law … at the instigation of the President of the United States.”
Rosen says his team was “coordinating as quickly and as–” before getting cut off by Schumer, who forcefully asks Rosen again if he will intervene directly with Trump.
“No, no, no – please answer my question,” Schumer shouts. “Answer my question!”
At that time, Schumer likely didn’t know Rosen’s relationship with Trump had deteriorated, and that Rosen was less of a Trump loyalist and more of an ally supporting the transfer of power.
Days earlier, Trump had threatened to fire Rosen and replace him with Jeffrey Clark, a top Justice Department official who was willing to do what Rosen wouldn’t: Use the powers of federal law enforcement to overturn the results of the 2020 election to keep Trump in power.
“Mr. President, you’re right that I’m not going to allow the Justice Department to do anything to try to overturn the election,” Rosen told Trump during that high-stakes Oval Office meeting on January 3, 2021, according to his testimony to the January 6 committee.
‘Continue democracy here on base’
As late as 4:30 p.m. ET, top congressional leaders were talking with McCarthy, the Army secretary, about completing the joint session of Congress at Fort McNair.
“We must finish,” Schumer said, “but you have to help us make that decision.”
Schumer and others later discuss the logistics of shuttling hundreds of lawmakers to Fort McNair. Pelosi wonders aloud if there were microphones they could use. Officials tried to resolve the big questions: How would lawmakers get bussed from the Capitol to Fort McNair? Where would they go after certification is completed? How would they get home safely?
In what looked like an impromptu briefing, a US Capitol Police officer provides some logistical answers to the senior lawmakers, for how they could “continue democracy here on base.”
But the congressional leaders were also wary, and Schumer said the Fort McNair backup plan would look like “we’re abandoning the Capitol to insurrectionists.”
By the evening, police had expelled most of the rioters and started establishing a secure perimeter around the Capitol. Pelosi gets on the phone again with Pence around 6 p.m. ET, and the vice president had some good news for the congressional leaders, who were hoping to get back into the Capitol.
“I am literally standing with the chief of the US Capitol Police,” Pence said on speakerphone, as Pelosi, Schumer and Grassley listened. “And he just informed me, that their best information is that they believe that the House and the Senate will be able to reconvene in roughly an hour.”
With that, the Fort McNair “backup plan” was called off.
‘There is blood outside the Speaker’s Lobby’
Soon after, Pelosi speaks with then-House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving. In the previously undisclosed conversation, Irving confirms that lawmakers can soon return, but some areas will be off-limits, because they are a “crime scene.”
“There is blood outside the Speaker’s Lobby,” Irving says, referring to the area immediately off the House floor where Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a police officer.
The footage shows Pelosi leaving Fort McNair and driving through the dark streets of DC toward the Capitol. The Senate reconvened around 8 p.m. ET and the House reconvened around 9 p.m. ET.
Despite the attack, Trump’s staunchest congressional allies pushed ahead with their challenges against Biden’s electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Their objections, based on meritless claims of fraud, were defeated in bipartisan votes. The 2020 election formally came to a close.
The new footage was captured by Alexandra Pelosi, who has released documentaries on HBO for decades. CNN and HBO are both owned by the same parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.
CNN’s Chuck Hadad contributed to this story