Trump Refused to Call Off Capitol Rioters

Details of a heated phone discussion with the top House Republican have emerged.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A story out overnight casts even more sinister light on former President Donald Trump’s complicity in the violence of January and adds more damning evidence of the cowardice of Republican Congressional leadership.

CNN (“New details about Trump-McCarthy shouting match show Trump refused to call off the rioters“):

In an expletive-laced phone call with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy while the Capitol was under attack, then-President Donald Trump said the rioters cared more about the election results than McCarthy did.

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the call afterward by McCarthy.

McCarthy insisted that the rioters were Trump’s supporters and begged Trump to call them off.

Trump’s comment set off what Republican lawmakers familiar with the call described as a shouting match between the two men. A furious McCarthy told the then-President the rioters were breaking into his office through the windows, and asked Trump, “Who the f–k do you think you are talking to?” according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call.

The newly revealed details of the call, described to CNN by multiple Republicans briefed on it, provide critical insight into the President’s state of mind as rioters were overrunning the Capitol. The existence of the call and some of its details were first reported by Punchbowl News and discussed publicly by McCarthy.

The Republican members of Congress said the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene. Several said it amounted to a dereliction of his presidential duty.

“He is not a blameless observer, he was rooting for them,” a Republican member of Congress said. “On January 13, Kevin McCarthy said on the floor of the House that the President bears responsibility and he does.”

Speaking to the President from inside the besieged Capitol, McCarthy pressed Trump to call off his supporters and engaged in a heated disagreement about who comprised the crowd. Trump’s comment about the would-be insurrectionists caring more about the election results than McCarthy did was first mentioned by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington state, in a town hall earlier this week, and was confirmed to CNN by Herrera Beutler and other Republicans briefed on the conversation.

“You have to look at what he did during the insurrection to confirm where his mind was at,” Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, told CNN. “That line right there demonstrates to me that either he didn’t care, which is impeachable, because you cannot allow an attack on your soil, or he wanted it to happen and was OK with it, which makes me so angry.”

“We should never stand for that, for any reason, under any party flag,” she added, voicing her extreme frustration: “I’m trying really hard not to say the F-word.”

Herrera Beutler went a step further on Friday night, calling on others to speak up about any other details they might know regarding conversations Trump and Pence had on January 6.

“To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” she said in a statement.

Another Republican member of Congress said the call was problematic for Trump.

“I think it speaks to the former President’s mindset,” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who also voted to impeach Trump last month. “He was not sorry to see his unyieldingly loyal vice president or the Congress under attack by the mob he inspired. In fact, it seems he was happy about it or at the least enjoyed the scenes that were horrifying to most Americans across the country.”

It’s unclear when Beutler and Gonzalez first learned of the call but, if they learned about it shortly after it happened, it would certainly explain their courage in voting to impeach an outgoing President of their own party. Yet you think they would have made this public before now.

McCarthy is another story entirely. On the one hand, he at least stood up to Trump while the riot was unfolding and tried to get him to put an end to it. Then again, he was in immediate physical danger, so it’s hard to give him much credit for that.

But how, having Trump not only rebuff a request to call off a mob that was putting McCarthy and his fellow members in peril but question McCarthy’s loyalty for even asking, could he possibly not led the impeachment proceedings himself? I’m not sure I can imagine a more cowardly dereliction of his duty.

Certainly, the details of this call should have been a central part of the impeachment presentation at the Senate trial. At least it’s coming out before the vote—not that I expect it to actually change anything.

An opinion piece by NYT columnist Maureen Dowd (“Trump’s Taste for Blood“) provides related insights.

The first time I realized that Donald Trump took pleasure in violence was back in March 2016. In an interview, I asked him about the brutish rhetoric and violence at his rallies and the way he goaded supporters to hate on journalists and rough up protesters. Even then Mitch McConnell was urging Trump to ratchet down the ferocity.

I told Trump that I had not seen this side of him before and that he was going down a very dark path. With his denigrating mockery of rivals and critics, he had already taken politics to a vulgar place, and now it was getting more dangerous.

Shouldn’t parents be able to bring children to rallies without worrying about obscenities, sucker punches, brawls and bullying, I wondered?

He brushed off the questions and blithely assessed the savage mood at his rallies: “Frankly, it adds a little excitement.”

A couple weeks later, I pressed him again on his belligerence and divisiveness, and, with utter candor, he explained why he was turning up the heat.

“I guess because of the fact that I immediately went to No. 1 and I said, why don’t I just keep the same thing going?” he said. “I’ve come this far in life. I’ve had great success. I’ve done it my way.” He added, “You know, there are a lot of people who say, ‘Don’t change.'”

Dear reader, he didn’t change.

And everything bloodcurdling that happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 flowed from his bloodthirsty behavior. He had always been cruel and selfish, blowing things up and reveling in the chaos, gloating in the wreckage. But it was only during his campaign that he realized he had a nasty mob at his disposal. He had moved into a world that allowed him to exercise his malice in an extraordinary way, and he loved it.

He became his own Lee Atwater, doing the dirty stuff right out in the open. He embraced the worst part of his party, the most racist, violent cohort.

The faux-macho, Gotti-esque air of menace he cultivated as a real estate dealer, the Clint Eastwood squint, just seemed like performance art; mostly he was around New York, acting genial at parties and courting the press. He would say stuff sometimes; after Sacha Baron Cohen pulled a prank on Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars, Trump said that Seacrest’s security guard should have “pummeled” and “punched” Baron Cohen “in the face so many times” that he’d end up in the hospital.

But once Trump got into politics, he realized, with growing intoxication, that the more incendiary he was, the more his fans would cheer. He found that he could really play with the emotions of the crowd, and that turned him on. Now he had the chance to command a mob, so his words could be linked to their actions.

Trump never cared about law and order or the cops. He was thrilled that he could unleash his mob on the Capitol and its guardians, with rioters smearing blood and feces and yelling Trump’s words and going after his targets — Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence.

Conceding that everything is much more obvious in hindsight, it’s noteworthy the neither of the two linked columns, both written toward the tail end of the 2016 primaries, from said interviews conveyed anything like this message. The first (“Will Trump Be Dumped?“) at least notes that he’s being “labeled a menace, misogynist, bigot and xenophobe by [his] own party” and that SNL skits are comparing him the Hitler and the KKK. Still, it’s only remembered for Trump’s quote, “I have people, very good people, the best people.” The follow-up (“Trump Does It His Way“) just portrays him as a misogynistic boor.

Frankly, most of the political press covered him the same way. For them—and for me—the fact that he was too stupid, boorish, and narcissistic to be President was so obvious that they did everything they could to shine the spotlight on those traits. Because he lacked the discipline and strategic mind to advance most of his agenda, too much of the reporting and analysis was along the lines of “Trump Does It His Way.”

Many of us predicted that violence would be a natural result of the climate he was creating. But I’m not sure we gave him enough agency.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    We saw Trump’s boorishness, stupidity, and narcissism as flaws. His followers saw them as virtues. The worse he got, the more they loved him for the very reasons others, like us, couldn’t stand him.

  2. Tony W says:

    Seems like a good time to remind the team here that Jamie Herrera-Butler is an example of the type of Republican we could have nationally if we would move to a top-two primary nationwide.

    As usual, Timothy Egan says it better than most:

  3. MarkedMan says:

    His goading people to violence at his rallies, his promise to pay their legal fees? I’m not sure how anyone could miss this. James, I still think you are being oblivious in not realizing that Trump knew about the violent plans well in advance of Jan 6th. He was in on it.

  4. Bob@Youngstown says:

    IMO what brought the Jan 6 rally-goers (peaceful and otherwise) was a lie that was proclaimed over and over by the former president his advocates.
    The coming vote in the impeachment is unfortunately predictable.
    Nevertheless, the American people deserve to know the truth. That is what a trial should be in service to…. the truth and every effort to expose that truth.

    If calling witnesses is the available mechanism to expose the truth, then witnesses should be called. The American people deserve to have every opportunity to know the truth.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Last night Schumer reportedly told the House Impeachment Managers, that if they want to call witnesses based on the new evidence that has come out, that the Senate will hear the testimony.

    Subpoena Murphy.

  6. charon says:

    Trump is a sadist who likes to hurt people and a voyeur who likes to watch people being hurt.

    When he can stir people up, egg them on to hurt people he dislikes, that is scoring a trifecta.

  7. charon says:


    I still think you are being oblivious in not realizing that Trump knew about the violent plans well in advance of Jan 6th.

    Trump’s style is to let his desires, his goals, be known and let the underlings figure out how to make them happen. I think he was aware of the potential for violence, but I do not think there even is a way he could have coordinated with organized assassins, the flex cuff people etc.

    I think telling the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by was about as far as coordination and awareness went.

  8. CSK says:

    I don’t know why this isn’t obvious to more people. On the other hand, as I said, there’s a contingent of Trump fanciers who recognize it and celebrate him for it.

  9. Scott F. says:

    Certainly, the details of this call should have been a central part of the impeachment presentation at the Senate trial. At least it’s coming out before the vote—not that I expect it to actually change anything.

    No information, no matter when it comes to be known, is going change anything with Trump’s 2nd impeachment. This political matter is a done deal. The Republican Senate will acquit him and Trump will claim exoneration.

    Yet as I proposed in yesterday’s impeachment threads, this story is just the beginning of the new information we will learn about Trump’s aberrant behavior, not only from the election through the Capitol riot, but over the span of Trump’s tenure. There will be tell-all books, de-classification of records, Freedom of Information document mining, confessions of administration members who turn on Trump when he ultimately screws them, etc. Does anyone think any of this new information will end up making Trump look better?

    I contend that the Republicans who remain in Trump’s camp, even now when they’ve been given a means to be rid of him, will come to regret it. Everything Trump touches dies. It may take awhile, maybe even an election cycle or two, but it is inevitable.

  10. Kathy says:

    Arsonists don’t usually call the fire department.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Going forward every act of white domestic terror can and should be laid at the feet of the Republican Party.

  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    I don’t get it.

    McConnel is smart, so are a lot of other GOP Senators.

    Let’s think about this:

    1) Find Trump responsible, bar him from ever holding office again… GOP can find a way to remain a party, but lose some far right. Maybe even recover some Dem Centrists over time.

    2) Find Trump not responsible, then the focus shifts on them becoming all that is Trump. Completely losing the center right, shifting even further down the right-wing rabbit hole. Trump says that he is completely vindicated, continues to rouse the rabble. Win some local elections, but lose most that matter.

    I just don’t see the GOP long game here.

  13. MarkedMan says:


    I think he was aware of the potential for violence, but I do not think there even is a way he could have coordinated with organized assassins, the flex cuff people etc.

    Respectfully, I disagree. Or, more accurately, probably 98% of the traitors were not part of an organized group, as you noted, but I think there were some more serious cells hiding in that turmoil. For me there is enough circumstantial evidence there were a few people in Trumps inner circle who were working with a few tactical groups. Trump pumping this date above all others, his messages leading up to 1/6, his decision to address the crowd and his instructions at the rally to attack the Capitol indicate he was in on it. My guess would be Miller and or Bannon. Just one “Hmm…” Moment: When the woman who obtained the permit for the rally started complaining about how the Trump people increasingly interfered, asking her for changes in time and venue, and eventually took it away from her. While still a wing nut true believer she is willing to bad mouth the Trump people because they hurt her feelings.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: @MarkedMan: I just realized that this TPM story I mentioned above is behind the paywall, so here it is. Apologies for length:

    Del. Stacey Plaskett made a key point Wednesday afternoon: Trump supporters’ Jan. 6 rally — timed to coincide with Congress certifying the election results — wasn’t just incidental. It occurred at Trump’s behest.

    One of the rally’s early planners can corroborate that.

    I’ve been asking Cindy Chafian, a conservative activist and reiki practitioner who was an organizer with Women For America First until December, about what happened. Chafian filed the permit with the National Park Service for the Jan. 6 rally, and was involved with the event’s planning and financing in its early stages.

    Chafian told me that she had first asked the National Park Service in a late November application for a permit to hold a rally on Jan. 22 — after the inauguration.

    “I tend to look ahead and submit permit applications for dates I think may be important,” Chafian told TPM in an instant message. “Originally I had it for the weekend following inauguration but after 12/12 rally and the issues with the election certification, I felt that date was more appropriate.”

    I asked Chafian why the rally was moved from after the inauguration to smack dab in the middle of Congress’ certification of the Electoral College.

    “January 6 was the day that the votes were to be certified or contested,” she replied. “And then the president called everyone to DC to support the rule of law and process of contesting votes thought to be ineligible.”

    So the rally was moved to Jan. 6 because Trump asked for it?

    Chafian also said that she had initially planned to hold the rally at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza, not the Ellipse, where Trump eventually gave the speech which launched the insurrection.

    According to Chafian, some of these changes took place after Chafian was sidelined from the planning around the rally by Caroline Wren, a GOP operative. Wren kicked Chaifian out, CNN reported, by telling her one week before the rally that “You didn’t think we would let a nobody with an organization no one has ever heard of plan an event for the President did you?”

    Chafian remains bitter about it, and claimed to TPM that Wren and others had taken over the event as part of an effort to draw Trump closer in to the bid to overturn the election results.

    “The people that were responsible for setting up the stage as well as facilitating the organization of the event […] had worked with the presidential campaign many times so they knew every detail that needed to be checked in order to get the clearance from secret service at the last minute,” Chafian wrote. “Which is exactly what they did.”

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    I just don’t see the GOP long game here.

    I think we make a mistake when we try to imagine what the GOP or even the Dems should do. Modern parties have almost no input on who is nominated. And once someone is nominated the funds the Party can bring to a candidate mean less and less, given the PACs and the hobbyist billionaires and the unlimited outside money. There is no GOP long game, or short game either. There is simply a bunch of individuals making tactical decisions about their very next election.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: We say the party has little control over candidates. But little is not none. IIRC both Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform (sic) and The Club for Growth (sic) are known for funding primary challenges of incumbents who show any sign of independence.

    I’ve seen statements from D officials or activists both that the D Party has no one coordinating long term strategy and that they are funded by small donors to the point they are not dependent on “transactional” money. The R Party is, I believe, still dependent on large donors, who have a lot of say in the Party. And they fund the Wingnut Welfare apparatus, much of which is part of the Kochtopus, which provides messaging and strategy. The Rs have at least a partially effective central planning apparatus.

    Whither the GOP Party goes still depends a lot on where the Koch Bro et al want it to go. And wherever they want it to go, they know they depend on the base for votes. There does seem to be the possibility of the “populist” wing self funding with small donors, like the Ds, and taking over, but I see no signs of that happening.

  17. dazedandconfused says:

    The evidence he did nothing to stop it is certainly the most damning. Might even be enough to prompt a rebellion against having Trump as their candidate in 2024. This is the best shot they will get at that.

    Dowd is wrong. It’s not blood lust, if it had been that there would be blood flowing in many places, even around the globe. We have been lucky. Trump only seeks the joy of manipulating people. The violence is, for him, tangential. Trump lusts for power and approval, not blood.

  18. Gustopher says:

    Can the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party impeach and convict a leopard for trying to eat their faces?

    I want to say that they are being true to their values in refusing to do so, and then fall back on “shitty people with shitty values.”

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    If calling witnesses is the available mechanism to expose the truth, then witnesses should be called. The American people deserve to have every opportunity to know the truth.

    If “the truth” were something that was being kept hidden–as in the days of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, for example–we’d have a different story, but the truth of Trump’s administration and it’s aftermath of November through January is out there, plain to see, and pretty much always has been. The only people who don’t know it are ignoring it. Witnesses can’t fix that.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: I think the only way the long game works is if there really isn’t a Center Right or if there is, it’s called the Democratic Party. Conservatism may well be a wholly owned subsidiary of Lost Cause White Supremacy now.

  21. charon says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    I just don’t see the GOP long game here.

    They assume he will fade, not be relevant very long.

    Also, he has physical and neurological health issue which likely progress.


    Good point, I was not thinking about Miller etc. probably a lot others.


    Trump lusts for power and approval, not blood.

    So not true, the man is clearly a malignant narcissist (combination narcissist NPD and sociopath ASPD) and sadism is always part of that syndrome.

  22. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: an increasing number of Republicans are refusing to sign Grover’s pledge though, most famously Donald Trump.

  23. Jay L Gischer says:

    How does Kevin McCarthy manage to look at himself in the mirror?

  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    How does Kevin McCarthy manage to look at himself in the mirror?

    Do you have evidence that Kevin McCarthy has a visible reflection in a mirror?

  25. dazedandconfused says:


    It is true, but can certainly be quibbled with as the term isn’t well defined.