Washington: The stunning attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters roughly six months ago threatened lawmakers and came close to upending the process to certify the 2020 presidential election.
After Senate Republicans blocked a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the attack, the House established a select committee to lead the probe.
The panel’s first hearing on Tuesday was emotional as four law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol that day gave firsthand accounts of being overrun, assaulted, and harangued by rioters as “traitors.” All described lingering physical and emotional trauma.
The four officers’ gripping testimony, accompanied by horrific images from police body cameras played by the Democratic-led committee, did not reveal much new information. But it launched the investigation with a compelling reminder of what was at stake as the seat of the federal government came under violent attack, reports NPR.
1. Officers point the finger at Trump for inciting supporters
U.S. Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn said what happened on Jan. 6 was political and that those participating had a mission: “They literally were there to ‘stop the steal,’ ” he said.
Dunn, a Black officer, said he was called the N-word after acknowledging to rioters that he voted for Joe Biden for president.
Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police repeatedly used the word “terrorists” to describe those involved in the siege, and he defended the term by coming prepared with the U.S. Code definition of domestic terrorism.
Hodges said rioters pledged support to Trump as they assaulted officers. He said they appealed to him to join their effort to take the building.
2. Rioters were 40 paces from two lawmakers
Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, one of the seven Democrats on the nine-person committee, revealed how close the throng of rioters came to her and New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice.
She described how the two lawmakers were holed up in a room in the basement of the Capitol, a location they thought would be the most secure in an emergency. But the two were just “40 paces” from where Officer Hodges and others clashed with rioters attempting to breach the West Front entrance.
In the second Trump impeachment trial, earlier this year, the House impeachment managers showed video of then-Vice President Mike Pence and senators being evacuated from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, minutes before many pro-Trump protesters walked into the chamber.
3. McCarthy’s boycott of panel leaves Trump with no defense
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the call to pull all five members he named to the select committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed two of them — Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana. Pelosi then tapped two Republicans, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, who both voted to impeach Trump and have been strong critics of the former president.
And they both used their platform during Tuesday’s hearing to argue that defending the rule of law was more important than loyalty to a political leader.
Cheney, for instance, asked Sgt. Gonell about Trump calling the group at the Capitol a “loving crowd.” He retorted that it was “pathetic” and that he was “still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day.”
The GOP leader’s decision not to participate in the select committee meant that the 3-1/2 hour hearing that was carried live by many news outlets did not include any GOP lawmaker defending the former president or raising the security issues Republicans say should be central to its probe.
- Former president and other Republicans could be subpoenaed
Chair Bennie Thompson didn’t rule out subpoenas for Trump and other senior White House officials, telling reporters after the hearing, “We will follow the facts.” He indicated that the committee could schedule a hearing next month, even though the House is scheduled to take its regular August recess.
Cheney made it clear that getting testimony from those around Trump that day is essential. “We must know what happened every minute of that day in the White House,” she said. She has stated recently that Jordan is potentially a “material witness.” And McCarthy’s telephone conversation with the president that day, a topic that came up during the impeachment trial, could be something the committee wants to hear more about directly from the California Republican.
The Justice Department, now under the Biden administration, decided Tuesday that former government officials could not invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying about conversations with Trump or his advisers about the insurrection.