Former Trump officials testify on Capitol riot response

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT) May 12, 2021
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3:40 p.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Key moments from today's hearing with former Trump officials on the Capitol riot 

From CNN's Devan Cole

Two former top Trump administration officials testified before Congress today about the Capitol insurrection, dodging questions from Democratic lawmakers about the attack while Republicans at the hearing used their time to criticize the government's investigations into the rioters and question the existence of the insurrection itself.

If you are just tuning in, here are some key moments from today's hearing:

Former acting defense secretary defends his response: Former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller issued a strong broadside against criticism lobbed at the US military for not responding to the attack, saying at one point, "Criticism of the military response is unfounded and reflects inexperience with or a lack of understanding of the nature of military operations, or worse, is simply the result of politics — I suspect a combination of both these factors." He added, "This isn't a video game, where you can move forces with the flick of a thumb or a movie that glosses over the logistical challenges and the time required to coordinate and synchronize with the multitude of other entities involved, or with complying with the important legal requirements involved in the use of such forces."

Miller also invoked the Kent State massacre on Wednesday as he justified why he didn’t believe the US military should have responded to the Capitol insurrection, saying he sees the nation’s armed forces “as a last resort” when responding to protests.

Former acting attorney general ducks questions on conversations with Trump: Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general, meanwhile sought to avoid answering questions about conversations with former President Trump about investigating the 2020 presidential election. Rosen engaged in a tense back and forth with Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly.

“Prior to Jan. 6, were you asked or instructed by President Trump to take any action at the department to advance election fraud claims or to seek to overturn any part of the 2020 election results?” the Virginia Democrat asked.

“I can tell you what the actions of the department were,” Rosen replied, adding, “I cannot tell you consistent with my obligations today about private conversations with the President one way or the other.”

“You’re saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly shot back.

“I’m saying that my responsibility is to tell you about the role of the Department of Justice and the actions we took,” Rosen said, to which the congressman responded, “No, sir, your responsibility is to be accountable to the American people and this Congress. I can’t imagine a more critical question.”

Republicans downplay the violence on Jan. 6: Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar issued a full-throated defense of the rioters as he attacked the ongoing federal investigations into the participants of the insurrection.

"Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens, especially Trump voters," Gosar claimed. "The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime."

"The government has enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors," the Arizona Republican added.

Another GOP member, Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, falsely compared the riot to a tourist visit.

In a separate hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the Justice Department’s focus on investigating and prosecuting Capitol rioters.

“In my career as a judge and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Garland said.

Read more about today's hearing here.

2:46 p.m. ET, May 12, 2021

GOP lawmaker references death of Capitol Police officer in tense exchange on Jan. 6 riot

From CNN's Whitney Wild and Zachary Cohen 

Republican Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar pulled the death of US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick into the partisan fray during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday featuring former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Chief of Metropolitan Police, Robert Contee.

“Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens, especially Trump voters,” Gosar said.

"Mr. Rosen, was Officer Sicknick killed by rioters with a fire extinguisher?" he asked in an apparent reference to early, incorrect reporting that Sicknick was assaulted on scene with a fire extinguisher.

Sicknick was assaulted by an unknown chemical spray, and the Department of Justice has charged two men with the assault.

The DC Medical Examiner ruled his death the result of strokes, calling the cause “natural.” The chemical assault has not been linked to Sicknick’s death.

“Congressman, Officer Sicknick was there acting in the line of duty and went into harm's way,” Rosen said. “And I think, as others have said, he acted as one of many heroes on that day.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that two men accused of spraying police with chemical spray, including Sicknick, during the Capitol riot will stay in jail as they await trial.

The case — the only one addressing the attack of Sicknick, who later died — has taken on new meaning in recent weeks after the prosecutors characterized it as a key moment where protesters coordinated to overcome police in a way that allowed the Capitol to fall.

2:04 p.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Former acting defense secretary seeks to "modify" assessment of former President Trump's role on Jan. 6

From CNN's Elise Hammond and Jamie Crawford

Rep. Byron Donalds listens as former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller testifies virtually during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on May 12.
Rep. Byron Donalds listens as former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller testifies virtually during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on May 12. Bill Clark/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller told a House Committee Wednesday looking into the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that he wanted to “modify my original assessment” of the role remarks made by former President Trump may have had on the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

In an exchange with Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, the lawmaker asked about remarks Miller made earlier this year to Vice saying he believed Trump's speech on the morning of Jan. 6 incited the rioters who stormed the US Capitol.

"I think I'd like to modify my original assessment, based on-," Miller said in today's hearing.

"Why am I not surprised about that? Go ahead," Lynch replied.

"Based on, as [DC Police Chief Robert Conte] said, we are getting more information by the day by the minute about what happened and to highlight your-, some other observations that were made, it's clear now that there were organized-, that although we're going to find out through the Department of Justice process and the legal system, it seems clear that there was some sort of conspiracy, where there were organized assault elements that intended to assault the capitol that day," Miller said.

"The question is would anybody have marched on the Capitol and overrun the Capitol without the President's speech, I think it's pretty much definitive that wouldn't have happened, so yes," Miller told VICE on Showtime in March. "The question is did he know that he was enraging the crowd to do that, I don't know."

Miller said he believed the Trump's speech earlier in the day did have a "cause and effect" impact on those who listened and later stormed the Capitol when asked if he thinks Trump was responsible for the riot.

"I don't know, but it seems cause and effect, yeah," Miller said.

Lynch pushed further in today's hearing, saying that Miller's answer in the hearing was also a reversal of his written testimony that was submitted.

"For your written testimony for today – for today, this morning, you stated the following about the President, quote, I personally believe his comments encouraged the protesters that day," Lynch said.

"That's a fair statement," Miller said.

"So this is a very recent reversal of your testimony?," Lynch said

"Absolutely not. That's ridiculous," Miller said.

"You're ridiculous," Lynch responded.

"There's a difference between marching the Capitol and assaulting the capitol. That's the delineation I'm trying to make, despite the partisan attack that I was just subjected to," Miller said later.

1:14 p.m. ET, May 12, 2021

GOP lawmaker defends rioters while slamming federal investigations into participants of insurrection

Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images
Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images

Today's hearing, which includes testimony from former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and DC Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee, at one point took an extraordinary turn as GOP Rep. Paul Gosar issued a full-throated defense of the rioters as he attacked the ongoing federal investigations into the participants of the insurrection.

"Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens, especially Trump voters," Gosar claimed. "The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime."

The government has enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors," the Arizona Republican added.

About the Capitol riot investigations: The Justice Department has charged at least 400 people in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, according to CNN's latest review of court documents. The 400 known defendants come from 43 states and Washington, DC, according to CNN's analysis.

The massive federal inquiry has added several defendants nearly each day since the attack, and federal prosecutors said in a recent court filing that they expect to charge at least 500 people.

There are hundreds of still-unidentified photographs of rioters on the FBI's "most wanted" website, indicating that plenty of people who stormed the Capitol haven't been charged yet — and that the unprecedented investigation continues.

The deadly attack injured more than 100 police officers, halted Congress' counting of the Electoral College votes for more than five hours and forced lawmakers into lockdown when pro-Trump rioters overran the US Capitol Police.

Reporting from CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz, Marshall Cohen and Caroline Kelly contributed to this post.

12:07 p.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Former acting attorney general pressed on conversations with Trump

From CNN's Devan Cole

Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at one point engaged in a tense back and forth with Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly over questions about conversations he had with then-President Trump and actions Trump might have asked his then-acting attorney general to take in regard to the 2020 election results.

“Prior to Jan. 6 were you asked or instructed by President Trump to take any action at the department to advance election fraud claims or to seek to overturn any part of the 2020 election results?” the Virginia Democrat asked.

“I can tell you what the actions of the department were,” Rosen replied, adding, “I cannot tell you consistent with my obligations today about private conversations with the President one way or the other.”

“You’re saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly shot back.

“I’m saying that my responsibility is to tell you about the role of the Department of Justice and the actions we took,” Rosen said, to which the congressman responded: “No sir, your responsibility is to be accountable to the American people and this Congress. I can’t imagine a more critical question.”

11:41 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Former defense secretary and former acting attorney general say they did not speak to Trump on Jan. 6

From CNN's Whitney Wild

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi listens as former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller testifies on May 12.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi listens as former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller testifies on May 12. Bill Clark/Pool/Getty Images

Former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen say they did not speak with former President Trump as the insurrection unfolded on Capitol Hill January 6. 

When asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, if former President Trump called him “to ensure the Capitol was being secured” Miller told lawmakers he did not speak with Trump because he had “all the authority” he needed to “fulfill [his] constitutional duties,” adding he didn’t speak with Trump at all that day.

Miller did say he spoke with former Vice President Mike Pence briefly, but disputed the idea that Pence told Miller to “clear the Capitol.”

“He provided insights based on his presence there and I notified him, or I informed him that by that point the District of Columbia National Guard was being fully mobilized,” he said. 

Rosen also told lawmakers he did not speak with Trump that day, also citing the fact he did not need any authority to respond with federal resources. 

“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said.

11:33 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Miller on Jan. 6 response: "This isn't a video game, where you can move forces with the flick of a thumb"

From CNN's Whitney Wild and Zachary Cohen

Pool
Pool

Former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told House lawmakers during his public testimony on Capitol Hill that there were several factors that influenced his reluctance to deploy military forces to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“I want to remind you and the American public that during that time there was irresponsible commentary by the media about a possible military coup or that advisors to the President were advocating the declaration of martial law,” Miller said. 

“I was also very cognizant of the fears and concerns about the prior use of the military in June 2020 response to the protests near the White House, and just before the electoral college certification, 10 former Secretaries of Defense signed an op-ed, published in The Washington Post warning of the dangers of politicizing inappropriately, using the military," he continued.

Miller also told the committee that there are “complexities to redeploying forces in an urban environment" that also played a role.

“This isn't a video game, where you can move forces with the flick of a thumb or a movie that glosses over the logistical challenges and the time required to coordinate and synchronize with the multitude of other entities involved, or with complying with the important legal requirements involved in use of such forces,” Miller said.

As CNN has already reported, Miller was expected to tell Congress Wednesday that he was concerned sending US troops to Capitol on Jan. 6 would have encouraged the conspiracy of a possible "military coup," according to his prepared testimony obtained by CNN.

Miller maintains that no such military coup was ever going to occur under his watch but "these concerns and hysteria about them, nonetheless factored into my decisions regarding the appropriate and limited use of our Armed Forces to support civilian law enforcement during the Electoral College certification," his remarks say.

11:06 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Rep. Maloney: No member of Congress should face punishment for speaking the truth about what happened Jan. 6

Pool
Pool

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, opened today's hearing on the Capitol riot by urging the country to reject former President Trump's "big lie" about the 2020 election and the "violent insurrection it inspired."

She also used her remarks to praise Rep. Liz Cheney for speaking up against Trump. Cheney lost her post in the House Republican leadership this morning.

"This nation stands at a crossroads, and the path we choose will define American democracy for generations to come," Maloney said.

"No member of Congress, whether a freshman representative or House conference chair should face punishment for speaking the truth about what happened that day. As congresswoman Cheney said last night, and I quote, 'remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen and America has not failed,' end quote. It is time for the American people and this Congress to look at the events of January 6th and say never again," she continued.
10:53 a.m. ET, May 12, 2021

Criticism of military response during Capitol riot is "unfounded," former acting defense secretary says

From CNN's Elise Hammond

Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said he stands by his actions during and after the US Capitol riot on Jan. 6, testifying that those who criticized the military's response do not understand "the nature of military situations."

"Those of you with military experience or understand the nature of military deployments will recognize how rapid our response was. Criticism of the military response is unfounded and reflects inexperience with or lack of understanding of the nature of military situations, or worse, is simply a result of politics. I suspect a combination of both of these factors," he said.

Miller is testifying in front of the Committee and Oversight and Reform, which is looking into how the insurrection was handled.

Miller emphasized that the military must play a "subordinate role" when it comes to troops needed to get involved in domestic situations to support local law enforcement agencies.

"I stand by every decision I made on January 6 and the following days. I want to emphasize our nation's armed forces are to be deployed for domestic law enforcement only when all civilian assets are expended and only as an absolute last resort," he said.

He added, "This isn't a video game where you can move forces with the flick of a thumb or movie that glosses over the logistical challenges and the time required to coordinate and synchronize with the multitude of other entities involved or complying with the important legal requirements involved with the use of such forces."