Jan. 6 was ‘culmination of an attempted coup,’ bipartisan committee says in first hearing
WASHINGTON (CN)— After 10 months and more than 1,000 witness interviews, the House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack held its first televised hearing Thursday, laying bare new details about the Capitol attack and the role former President Donald Trump and his baseless claims of election fraud played in the insurrection.
Not wasting time, the committee centered their first investigative hearing around former President Donald Trump, connecting the dots between his claims of election fraud, his concerted legal effort to overturn the Electoral College results, and the violence of his supporters who bashed their way into the Capitol building, intent on preventing the peaceful transfer of power.
“Those who invaded our Capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them: that the election was stolen, and that he was the rightful president. President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” said Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee.
Cheney laid out a road map for the panel’s forthcoming hearings, which will focus on Trump’s knowledge that the “big lie” was in fact a lie, his pressure on the Justice Department to investigate the election, his efforts to get Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election and his aim to get state officials to back his conspiracy about election fraud.
In his opening remarks, committee chairman Bennie Thompson drew comparisons to the aftermath of the Civil War, noting that the modern oath of office for lawmakers was created in that period to ensure they denounced the Confederacy.
“That oath was put to the test on Jan. 6, 2021,” Thompson said.
More than 100 police officers were injured during the attack and four people died that day. Five Capitol police officers who defended the building on Jan. 6 died in the days that followed.
While the committee’s following hearings will include a deep interrogation of legal questions about White House officials and the then-president, such as whether Trump was derelict in his duty as president or incited the violent mob that stormed the Capitol building, Thompson did not mince words about the committee’s main message.
“Any legal jargon you hear about seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, boils down to this — Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup,” Thompson said.
The panel emphasized the baseless nature of Trump’s claims about election fraud and the dangerous nature of his calls for Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results.
“What President Trump demanded that Mike Pence do wasn’t just wrong, it was illegal and it was unconstitutional,” Cheney said.
Showing portions of video depositions for the first time, the panel played a clip of William Barr, attorney general under Trump, in which he called claims of election fraud “bullshit.”
“I repeatedly told the president in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud,” Barr testified.
Barr said Trump’s claims that Dominion brand voting machines were miscounting votes were “baseless” and “nonsense.”
He testified that he told the president it was “crazy stuff” and a “disservice to the public” to continue asserting the election was stolen, yet Trump repeated the claims about fraud several times after Barr’s warnings.
In the first glimpse of Ivanka Trump’s testimony, the committee showed video of the then-president’s daughter saying she “respected” Barr and accepted his assertions that Biden had won the election.
The hearing also gave further insight into the president’s inaction as the insurrection raged on.
As Trump’s supporters bashed their way into the Capitol, with bear spray and bats in the halls of Congress, Cheney said Trump told his staff that his supporters were “doing what they are supposed to be doing.” Aides told the panel that the president was “really angry” at advisors who pushed for him to take action against the violence.
The committee showed compiled never-before-seen footage of rioters smashing their way into the Capitol, clashing with Capitol Police, and chanting “Fuck Nancy,” as they stormed their way into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a traumatic brain injury on Jan. 6, said the Capitol looked like a “war scene” that day.
“I was slipping in blood,” she said.
In an eerie moment harkening back to Trump’s 2017 speech in which he spoke of “American carnage,” Edwards said: “It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Filmmaker Nick Quested, who was embedded with the far-right extremist organization known as the Proud Boys, testified that after the group led the breach of the Capitol, “We went for tacos.”
Five members of the Proud Boys, including former head of the group Enrique Tarrio, were charged earlier this week with seditious conspiracy for their role in the attack.
Cheney dropped several bombshells during the hearing, noting that per a committee interview with a White House aide, Trump backed rioters’ calls for Vice President Mike Pence to be hung.
“Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it,” the then-president reportedly said.
In the aftermath of the attack, Cheney said several House Republicans asked Trump to pardon them over their involvement in the attack.
“Representative Scott Perry contacted the White House to seek a presidential pardon,” Cheney said.
Perry is one of five House Republicans who has been subpoenaed to testify before the committee.