August 17, 2022

Washington — Members of Vice President Mike Pence’s Secret Service detail began to fear for their lives during the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and radioed goodbyes to their families, the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack revealed in a hearing Thursday.

A witness who testified anonymously but was described as a “national security professional” working at the White House the day of the attack explained to House investigators the meaning behind a 2:24 p.m. entry in a chat log from National Security staff tracking developments at the Capitol that stated, “Service at the capitol does not sound good right now.”

“The members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives,” the unidentified witness told the committee in an interview played during the proceeding, adding there was a lot of yelling and “very personal calls” being made over the radio traffic.

“It was disturbing. I don’t like talking about it,” the security professional continued, “but there were calls to say goodbye to family members and so forth. It was getting – for whatever the reason was on the ground, the VP detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.”

Agents who were with Pence at the Capitol continued to offer “reassurances,” the witness said, but noted the scene as the violence escalated and the mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the building was “chaos.”

“They were just yelling,” the security professional said.

The chat log from staff on Trump’s National Security Council was disclosed during the committee’s eighth public hearing Thursday, which focused on the 187 minutes that elapsed from when the former president finished his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 to when he posted a tweet at 4:17 p.m. telling rioters to leave the Capitol.

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The log, which tracked the developments at the Capitol in real-time, notes at 2:13 p.m. “starting to kick in windows at the capitol. 2 windows have been kicked in,” and then “capitol is breached.”

Three minutes later, an entry states “VP being pulled,” and at 2:18 p.m., an entry reads: “decision in the next 2-3 mins or they may not be able to move. VP may be stuck at the Capitol.”

At 2:20 p.m., the log notes the “Second Floor and Senate Door has now been breached,” followed by “explosions on the rotunda steps” at 2:24 p.m. The final entry in the log displayed by the committee, also from 2:24 p.m., reads “Service at the capitol does not sound good right now.”

Discussing the last entry conveying what the Secret Service was experiencing at the Capitol, the national security professional said agents were “running out of options, and they’re getting nervous.”

“It sounds like that we came very close to either Service having to use lethal options or worse. At that point, I don’t know. Is the VP compromised?” the witness said. “Is the detail – like, I don’t know. Like, we didn’t have visibility, but it doesn’t – if they’re screaming and saying things, like, say good-bye to the family, like the floor needs to know this is going to a whole another level soon.”

The select committee has detailed in past hearings how Trump sought to pressure Pence to unilaterally overturn the results of the election during the joint session of Congress that convened Jan. 6, either by rejecting state electoral votes or returning them to the state legislatures to replace their slates of electors.

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After Pence refused to take such action, the former president engaged in a heated call with his vice president the morning of Jan. 6 — calling him a “wimp” according to testimony — and then issued a tweet claiming he lacked “courage.”

Sarah Matthews, a former White House deputy press secretary who resigned in the aftermath of the assault, told the committee in a recorded interview that the tweet only fueled the rioters. She also testified in-person Thursday about her experiences in the White House during the Capitol assault.

As chants of “hang Mike Pence” rang out, the crowd inside the Capitol surged and overwhelmed law enforcement following the president’s tweet, prompting the Secret Service to move Pence from his ceremonial Senate office to a secure location within the Capitol complex. 

Photos obtained by the panel and displayed at an earlier hearing showed Pence in the secure location on the phone and then watching a recorded video from Trump urging the mob to go home.

“Despite knowing the Capitol had been breached and the mob was in the building, President Trump called Mike Pence a coward and placed all the blame on him for not stopping the certification,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said Thursday of Trump’s tweet. “He put a target on his own vice president’s back.”