The House select committee’s first hearing Tuesday to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol was as personal as it was probing.
Sober verbal accounts from four police officers who came under physical and psychological attack that day were combined with raw video footage of rioters shouting epithets and using physical force against law enforcement.
The panel hearing the testimony was unusually united — especially for present-day Washington. It included seven Democrats and two Republicans all handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
All were critical of former President Trump, who was impeached for inciting a mob to attack the Capitol. No defenders of Trump were present after Pelosi rejected two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) choices.
Here are five takeaways from the day.
Democrats picked their witnesses carefully
Each of the four officers selected to testify before the committee had previously shared gripping accounts of their experiences with various news outlets.
The panel likely knew what it was getting on Tuesday, and what a nation watching on cable television received was dramatic, stark and personal.
“On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq,” said Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant and Army veteran.
Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges repeatedly called all of the rioters “terrorists” and offered a definition to back up his statements when asked about his use of the word by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
There was also plenty of criticism of GOP lawmakers who have downplayed the violence.
Hodges, questioned about a Republican lawmaker who compared the rioters to “tourists,” joked that if they were tourists, no wonder U.S. visitors to other countries are so unpopular.
“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this,” he added on a much more serious note. “If anyone in power coordinated or aided or abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack. Because we can’t do it. We’re not allowed to.”
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, in a moment of anger, slammed his fist on the table, saying: “The indifference being shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Fanone previously shared how rioters threatened to kill him with his own gun and used his taser to repeatedly shock him into submission.
“My law enforcement career prepared me to cope with some of the aspects of this experience. Nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so, betray their oath of office,” he said.
GOP tried to distract
Trump had no defenders at the hearing, so House GOP leaders before the event held a press conference to blame Pelosi, and not the former president, for what played out on Jan. 6.
“On Jan. 6 these brave officers were put into a vulnerable and impossible position because the leadership at the top failed,” McCarthy told reporters, speaking of Pelosi, not Trump.
McCarthy, who reportedly urged Trump on the phone to call off his supporters on Jan. 6, did not mention his false claims that he won the election, which brought many of the rioters to the Capitol.
Pelosi’s office said congressional leaders don’t oversee daily Capitol security decisions and that the Speaker never denied a request to activate the National Guard. And at their press conference, House Republican lawmakers did not answer reporters’ questions about why Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who was still Senate majority leader during the insurrection, shouldn’t share equal blame for the security meltdown.
A group of Trump’s most vocal allies, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), also tried to hold counterprogramming in the form of a press conference outside the Justice Department to demand a status report on imprisoned Capitol riot defendants.
But the media grab didn’t go as well as they hoped: The Republicans ultimately cut the event short due to interruptions by a group of counterprotesters. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the two Republicans on the select committee, denounced the attempted distraction as a “disgrace.”
Kinzinger seizes moment
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) held back tears as he lambasted GOP colleagues for downplaying the riot.
“I never expected this day to be quite as emotional for me as it has been,” said Kinzinger, a National Guardsman who was called to duty last summer when racial justice protests turned violent.
But Kinzinger drew a sharp contrast between those protests and Jan. 6.
“Not once did I ever feel like the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on Jan. 6,” he said.
Sitting next to Cheney, Kinzinger criticized his GOP colleagues for turning the committee’s work into a bitter ideological bash.
“I’m frustrated that six months after a deadly insurrection breached the U.S. Capitol for several hours on live television, we still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because members of my party have treated this as just another partisan fight,” Kinzinger said. “It’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to staff and employees of the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth and to the generations who went to war before us to defend self-governance.”
Racism on Jan. 6 takes center stage
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, gave bracing testimony about rioters calling him the N-word, saying it was the first time he’d ever been labeled that while in uniform.
Asked by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) how that made him feel, Dunn said he at first didn’t process what happened as a racist attack but later called it “overwhelming” and “disheartening.”
“Those words are weapons,” Dunn said.
Gonell, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) about how some people focused on his race and questioned his allegiance to America.
“Even through my mask, they saw my skin color and said, ‘You’re not even an American,’” said Gonell. “Whether I was in the military, they don’t know that. But they’re yelling and saying all these things to me.”
Hodges, who is white, later said matter-of-factly that the crowd was notably white and male.
“I think out of the entire time I was there, I saw just two women and two Asian males. Everyone else was white males,” said Hodges.
Gripping language underscores severity of attack
Committee members and witnesses used sharp language and slogans in an attempt to emphasize the severity of the events for the historical record.
Dunn likened rioters to criminals carrying out illegal orders from a “hit man,” not naming Trump.
“It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6, and a hit man sent them,” Dunn said.
At another point, in response to a question by Cheney, Gonell called Trump’s characterization that the insurrectionists were a “loving” bunch a “pathetic excuse.”
Hodges, who was captured on video being crushed by protesters while trapped in a doorway, regularly called those who stormed the Capitol “terrorists,” one of the strongest terms used about the violent mob. He also used the word “lynched” to describe what he was afraid could have happened to him.
There’s a “difference between a crime and a coup,” Kinzinger said at another juncture, offering a phrase that is likely to draw attention from both Republicans and Democrats.
Via The Hill