The House panel investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol laid the blame firmly on Donald Trump on Thursday night, saying the assault was hardly spontaneous but an “attempted coup” and a direct result of the president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.
With a never-before-seen 12-minute video of extremist groups leading the deadly siege and startling testimony provided from Trump’s most inner circle, the 1/6 committee gripping detail in contending that Trump’s repeated lies about election fraud and his public effort to stop Joe Biden’s victory led to the attack and imperled American democracy.
“Democracy remains in danger,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the panel, during the hearing, timed for prime time to reach as many Americans as possible.
“January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, to overthrow the government,” Thompson said.
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“The violence was no accident.” The hearings may not change Americans’ views on the Capitol attack, but the panel’s investigation is intended to stand as its public record.
Ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, and with Trump considering another White House run, the committee’s final report aims to account for the most attack on the Capitol since 1814, and to ensure such an attack never happens again.
Testimony showed on Thursday how Trump desperately clung to his own false claims of election fraud, beckoning supporters to the Capitol on January 6 when Congress would certify the results, despite those around him insisting Biden had won the election.
In a previously unseen video clip, the panel played a quip from former Attorney General Bill Barr who testified that he told Trump the claims of a rigged election were “bull——.” In another, the former president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, testified to the committee that she respected Barr’s view that there was no election fraud. “I accepted what he said.” Others showed leaders of the extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys preparing to storm the Capitol to stand up for Trump. One rioter after another told the committee they came to the Capitol because Trump asked them to.
“President Trump summoned a violent mob,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair who took the lead for much of the hearing.
“When a president fails to take the steps necessary to preserve our union — or worse, causes a constitutional crisis — we’re in a moment of maximum danger for our republic.” There was an audible gasp in the hearing room when Cheney read an account that said when Trump was told the Capitol mob was chanting for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged for refusing to block the election results.Trump responded that maybe they were right, that he “deserves it”.
At another point it was disclosed that Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a leader of efforts to object to the election results, had sought a pardon from Trump, which would protect him from prosecution.
When asked about the White House lawyers threatening to resign over what was happening in the administration, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner scoffed they were “whining”.
Police officers who had fought off the mob consoled one another as they sat in the committee room reliving the violence they faced on January 6.
Officer Harry Dunn teared up as bodycam footage showed rioters bludgeoning his colleagues with flagpoles and baseball bats.
In wrenching testimony US Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards told the panel that she slipped in other people’s blood as rioters pushed past her into the Capitol.
She suffered brain injuries in the melee.
“It was carnage. It was chaos,” she said.
The riot left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol. At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.
Biden, in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, said many viewers were “going to be seeing for the first time a lot of the detail that occurred”.
Trump, unapologetic, dismissed the investigation anew — and even declared on social media that January 6 “represented the greatest movement in the history of our country”.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted: “All. Old. News.” Emotions are still raw at the Capitol, and security was tight. Law enforcement officials are reporting a spike in violent threats against members of Congress.
Against this backdrop, the committee was speaking to a divided America. Most TV networks carried the hearing live, but Fox News Channel did not.
The committee chairman, civil rights leader Thompson, opened the hearing with the sweep of American history, saying he heard in those denying the stark reality of January 6 his own experience growing up in a time and place “where people justified the action of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching.” Republican Rep. Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, outlined what the committee has learned about the events leading up to that brisk January day when his supporters to Congress sent to “fight like hell” for his presidency.
Among those testifying was documentary maker Nick Quested, who filmed the Proud Boys storming the Capitol — along with a pivotal meeting between the group’s then-chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and another extremist group, the Oath Keepers, the night before in nearby parking garage . Quested said the Proud Boys later went to get tacos.
Court documents show that members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were discussing as early as November a need to fight to keep Trump in office. Leaders both groups and some members have since been indicted on rare sedition charges over the military-style attack.
In the weeks ahead, the panel is expected to detail Trump’s public campaign to “Stop the Steal” and the private pressure he put on the Justice Department to reverse his election loss — despite dozens of failed court cases attesting there was no fraud on a scale that could have tipped the results in his favour.
The panel faced obstacles from its start. Republicans blocked the formation of an independent body that could have investigated the January 6 assault the way the 9/11 Commission probed the 2001 terror attack.
Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered the creation of the 1/6 panel through Congress and rejected Republican-appointed lawmakers who had voted on January 6 against certifying the election results, eventually naming seven Democrats and two Republicans.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been caught up in the probe and has defied the committee’s subpoena for an interview, called the panel a “scam.” In the audience were several lawmakers who were trapped together in the House gallery during the attack.
“We want to remind people, we were there, we saw what happened,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. “We know how close we came to the first non-peaceful transition of power in this country.” The Justice Department has arrested and charged more than 800 people for the violence that day, the biggest dragnet in its history.