Congressional investigators have obtained a batch of official White House photographs, including images taken on Jan. 6, 2021, according to two sources familiar with the evidence.
The previously unreported cache, which arrived via the National Archives, may provide the committee with real-time visual evidence of former President Donald Trump’s actions and movements as a mob of his supporters battered their way into the Capitol and threatened the transfer of power to Joe Biden.
At least some of the photos were taken by official White House photographer Shealah Craighead, the sources indicated. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson confirmed that the panel had obtained some of Craighead’s photos, though he declined to describe their content. Asked whether the panel had spoken to Craighead as a direct witness, Thompson said, “Not yet.”
Craighead declined to comment and indicated that she was unsure which of her photos the committee had obtained.
But the existence of any photographic evidence presents the prospect that the select committee may be able to offer a more vivid and granular picture of what was happening inside the White House on Jan. 6 than previously known.
The panel has been amassing evidence of Trump’s movements and actions that day, attempting to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of what the former president was doing while rioters smashed through police lines and disrupted the counting of electoral votes — the last step in finalizing Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory before his inauguration. The committee has already obtained from the National Archives a private schedule that revealed attendees of a key Oval Office meeting, as well as call logs and diary entries typically barred from public view.
The photo cache is another indication of the valuable materials the committee has obtained from the Archives in recent months. The panel, in August, made a voluminous request for Trump White House records from the Archives, including for “[a]ll photographs, videos, or other media … taken or recorded within the White House on January 6, 2021.” In legal filings associated with Trump’s effort to block the transfer of hundreds of pages of records, the National Archives indicated it planned to identify relevant evidence, including “digital photographs” — on a rolling basis.
Thompson told reporters earlier this week that he has continued to exchange correspondence with the Archives to help tailor and narrow the committee’s requests based on evidence the committee continues to obtain. He made a new request Tuesday to the Archives for documents.
In addition to material from the Archives, committee investigators have interviewed nearly all attendees of Trump’s 11:10 a.m. Oval Office meeting, including Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
The committee is particularly focused on Trump’s 11:20 a.m. phone call with then-Vice President Mike Pence — when he made a final direct effort to pressure Pence to try to overturn the election — and a 2:24 p.m. tweet attacking Pence for refusing to submit to his demands.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump said of his vice president at the very moment Pence was being rushed by the Secret Service into an underground Capitol loading dock to protect him from the encroaching mob.
The select committee increasingly views that tweet as a catalyst of the day’s worst violence.
“Trump at that point knew the Capitol had been invaded, right, and understood the danger everyone was in, and yet intensified his calls against Pence,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the panel. “It demonstrates a state of mind.”
Multiple defendants charged with breaching the Capitol pointed to that tweet as a driver of the mob’s fury. Video footage captured by news media and taken by rioters themselves shows the crowd reacting to the tweet, which posted 10 minutes after the first wave of people entered the Capitol through a window shattered by a rioter wielding a stolen police shield.
Evidence previously disclosed by the select committee has shown dozens of Trump aides, allies and family members pleading with the president, via his chief of staff Mark Meadows, to publicly urge the rioters to go home. But Trump’s first comment amid the chaos was his attack on Pence — which came nearly 90 minutes after the first police lines at the Capitol were breached.
Select committee members repeatedly declined to say whether the committee has learned more about the circumstances of Trump’s Twitter attack on Pence, such as whether Trump himself worked on drafting it, sent it himself or authorized an aide to do so on his behalf.
But the tweet was a key piece of evidence during Trump’s January 2021 impeachment and trial, when Democrats cited it as evidence of Trump’s indifference to the violence. One Republican who voted to impeach, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina, said the tweet alone justified the charge that Trump incited the mob.
“To me, that one tweet was incitement,” Rice said at a primary debate earlier this month. “If they’d have gotten hold of Mike Pence, we could’ve lost our democracy that day.”