Witness Details Trump’s Insistence on Heading to Capitol on January 6

On the afternoon of January 6, 2021, following a fervent address at the Ellipse, President Donald J. Trump initiated a series of events that culminated in a riot at the Capitol by his supporters. Immediately after his speech, President Trump, while in his armored vehicle, inquired about the size of the audience, a common concern of his post-public appearances.

However, the conversation quickly escalated. Within moments, President Trump expressed a strong desire to head to the Capitol. Despite his insistence, Robert Engel, his lead Secret Service agent, firmly declined, citing the absence of a prearranged plan for such a move.

According to a newly released transcript of an interview conducted by House investigators with the Secret Service agent driving the vehicle, President Trump’s insistence on visiting the Capitol was evident. The driver, whose identity remains undisclosed, noted that while President Trump was persistent, he did not exhibit extreme anger or aggression towards Engel or himself. His tone was elevated, but not to the point of seeming irate.

Contrary to some of the more dramatic and contested testimonies presented to the House Jan. 6 committee, the driver clarified that President Trump did not attempt to seize the steering wheel or physically confront the agents. This account marks the first comprehensive eyewitness testimony regarding the events inside the armored vehicle to be disclosed to the public.

The driver’s detailed account adds significant context to one of Jan. 6’s most closely examined incidents. Despite its importance, the transcript remained unreleased by the House Jan. 6 committee due to an agreement with the Secret Service to protect sensitive information. This decision has been criticized by Republicans, who argue that the committee’s failure to disclose the transcript contradicts the narrative provided by Cassidy Hutchinson, a key witness and former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jonathan E. Meyer, the Department of Homeland Security’s general counsel, explained the delay in releasing the driver’s transcript, stating that the department was reviewing the transcripts to safeguard sensitive content. Eventually, redacted versions of six interviews, including the driver’s, were released to Republicans investigating the committee’s actions for potential irregularities or bias.

This firsthand testimony directly challenges the account given by Hutchinson and the narrative promoted by the former Jan. 6 select committee. Despite this, former aides to the committee argue that the final report did include references to the driver’s and Engel’s testimonies, denying any attempts to conceal information.

The driver’s testimony provides a nuanced view of President Trump’s demeanor and actions on that tumultuous day, from his agitated state en route to the Ellipse to his adamant requests to join his supporters at the Capitol. This account, while shedding light on the events of January 6, also highlights the complexities and challenges in fully reconciling the various witness accounts.