House's Jan. 6 committee opens with officers' harrowing tales of attacks by pro-Trump 'terrorists'

House's Jan. 6 committee opens with officers' harrowing
tales of attacks by pro-Trump 'terrorists' 1

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told lawmakers Tuesday that things got racist when he called on the “insurrectionists” in MAGA hats and Trump 2020 shirts to turn back from the Jan. 6 riot.

They responded in defiance, Mr. Dunn said, snapping back: “No man, this is our house, President Trump invited us here” and “We are here to ‘Stop the Steal.’”

“I do my best to keep politics out of my job but in this circumstance, I responded, ‘Well I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?,” Officer Dunn said.

That’s when the racially charged attacks began.

“That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that guys? This n***er voted for Joe Biden,’ Officer Dunn said. “Nobody had ever, ever called me a n***er while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer.”

His words disquieted and captivated the first hearing of the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack.

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The riveting hearing also served as a glaring reminder that the kid-glove treatment former President Donald Trump is used to getting from most Republicans in Congress is not what is in store from the Democrat-led probe.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy‘s decision to boycott the investigation has left Mr. Trump without any major allies on the panel — clearing the way for must-see television events that threaten to further tarnish the image of the nation’s 45th president.

For three-plus hours Tuesday, the committee listened to gripping testimony from D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and Officer Dunn.

The first hearing came roughly six months after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the results of the election, leaving about 140 police officers injured.

Mr. Trump and his diehard supporters have maintained that the election was stolen by Democrats, which are the same allegations that fueled the rioters who stormed the Capitol and temporarily delayed Congress’ certification of President Biden’s election victory.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her fellow Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans demanded the congressional deep dive into what happened that day, and they have accused Mr. McCarthy and other GOP leaders of standing in the way.

Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, has called the probe a partisan “sham.”

At the select committee‘s debut hearing, the police officers, at times wiping away tears, said they feared for their lives and took issue with the idea that the crowd was unarmed.

They criticized the former president for inciting the mob and said it is indefensible to liken violence to a typical tourist visit.

“If that is what American tourists are like, I can see why foreign countries don’t like American tourists,” Officer Hodges said, after repeatedly labeling the rioters “terrorists.”

Sgt. Gonell said he sustained injuries on both his hands, his left shoulder, and his right foot, which he had already had surgery on.

“I could have lost my life that day, not once, but many times,” Sgt. Gonell said.

He became emotional when speaking about being on duty that day, particularly when recalling family members calling him after seeing the events on television.

The officer said when he arrived home early the next day, he could not hug his wife because he was covered in chemicals from sprays that rioters dispersed on him.

“My fellow officers and I were kicked, punched, shoved, and sprayed with chemical irritants and even blinded by eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob,” Sgt. Gonell said.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the committee, insisted the investigation was not partisan pursuit, but an effort to get facts about how the day unfolded.

“There’s no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation,” Mr. Thompson said. “Our only charge is to follow the facts where they lead us.”

Mr. Thompson played a video showing rioters storming the Capitol and attacking police before taking testimony from the officers.

“This threat hasn’t gone away,” Mr. Thompson said. “It looms over our democracy like a dark cloud.”

“Some people are trying to deny what happened, whitewash it, and turn the insurrectionists into martyrs, but the whole world saw the reality of what happened on Jan. 6,” he said. “Let’s be clear, the rioters that tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the two Republicans on the panel, also delivered an opening statement. She sent a stern warning to elected leaders not to let “vicious factionalism of political parties” get in the way of their chief obligation: “to defend the rule of law and the freedom of all Americans.”

The Wyoming congresswoman said that no member of Congress should “attempt to defend the indefensible,” “whitewash” the events of that day, or “obstruct” the investigation.

Ms. Cheney, who has emerged as one of the most prominent anti-Trump Republicans, also focused on the role Mr. Trump and his advisers played in the events of the day.

“We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack,” she said.

“If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system,” Ms. Cheney said.

The hearing played out following heated political clashes between Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. McCarthy over the scope of the investigation and the composition of the committee.

Mr. McCarthy helped derail the creation of an independent, bipartisan, 9-11 style commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6. and has cast the select committee as a partisan inquisition.

He eventually tapped five people to serve on the committee last week after he met with Mr. Trump in New Jersey. But he pulled his picks after Mrs. Pelosi rejected two of his choices: Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana.

Mr. McCarthy warned that Mrs. Pelosi established a new dangerous precedent by blocking the minority party’s appointees to a select committee.

Ms. Pelosi, California Democrat, responded by tapping another anti-Trump Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to serve on the panel.

Mr. Kinzinger choked back tears and urged the officers to recognize that “You guys won.”

“We still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families.”

Before the hearing convened, Mr. McCarthy and his top lieutenants held a press conference to shift the focus back onto Mrs. Pelosi. They said the Capitol police were put in an impossible position on Jan. 6 because of a lack of leadership in their ranks and by security failures that they blamed on Ms. Pelosi.

“Why were we ill-prepared for that day and how can we make sure it will never happen again?” Mr. McCarthy said.”But unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi will only [put] people onto the committee that will ask the questions she wants asked. That becomes a failed committee and a failed report — a sham that no one can believe.”

Mr. McCarthy cited a Capitol Police inspector general report released this year that revealed failed training and missed warnings about how Mr. Trump‘s supporters saw the day as their last chance to overturn the results of the presidential election.

“So as we see these kinds of actions by Speaker Pelosi to cover up the facts that she doesn’t want out there,” said House Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican. “It has completely debased the legitimacy of this commission because, clearly, they are not searching for the truth.”

The officers that testified Tuesday aired their frustration with GOP leaders.

“What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” Officer Fanone said. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room.”

“But too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he said, slapping the table.

Sgt. Gonnell, an Iraq veteran, responded angrily when Ms. Cheney asked him to respond to Mr. Trump‘s assertion that the mob was “a loving crowd.”

“If that was all hugs and kisses then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him,” Mr. Gonell said. “It is insulting, it is demoralizing because everything we did was to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt and what he was doing – instead of sending the military or sending support or telling his people to stop this nonsense – he egged them [on] to continue fighting.”

Officer Hodges, who can be seen on video getting crushed between doors, recounted how “terrorists” in the crowd tried to rip away his baton, told him “you will die on your knees” and tried to gouge out his eye.

Officer Hodges told the panel: “To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement more than once, carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us.”

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