U.S. House investigators made the case to the American public in a prime-time hearing on Thursday that the violent insurrection by former U.S. president Donald Trump’s supporters should not be forgotten.
While the basics of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol are well known, the committee is trying to tell the story of how it happened, and how to prevent it from ever happening again, for history.
The made-for-TV hearings — which included video of police officers being brutally beaten and of right-wing extremists leading the crowds into the Capitol — came as some have tried to downplay the violence.
“We can’t sweep what happened under the rug,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the panel, as he opened the first in the series of hearings. “The American people deserve answers.”
Takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee’s first hearing:
Thompson laid out the committee’s initial findings that Trump led a “sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election.”
The panel’s vice chairwoman, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, called it a “sophisticated seven-part plan.”
The committee plans to look at how Trump pushed his false claims of widespread fraud and how it it eventually prompted the violence at the Capitol. They argue that his lies prompted far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to jump into action.
“Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt,” Thompson said.
The committee has conducted more than 1,000 interviews with people connected to the siege and collected more than 140,000 documents. They will use that evidence over the course of the hearings this month to show how the attack was co-ordinated by some of the rioters in the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory — and how Trump’s efforts started it all.
“The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous riot,” Cheney said.
Testimony from Trump’s inner circle
The hearing featured never-before-seen video testimony from former attorney general Bill Barr and others who told Trump at the time that his fraud claims had no merit. Barr, who said publicly at the time that the Justice Department had not found fraud, said he had told Trump it was “bullsh-t.”
The panel also showed video testimony from Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who spoke to the committee in April. She said Barr’s declaration “affected my perspective.”
“I respect Attorney General Barr so I accepted what he said,” she told the committee.
Bid for attention
The committee took the unusual step of launching the hearings with a prime-time show — aimed to gather as many viewers as possible.
It’s still unclear how many will tune in, but the panel is producing the hearing in hopes of becoming must-see television, featuring never-before-seen video footage of the violent insurrection.
The hearing room was also set up for impact, with a huge screen hanging over the lawmakers.
Lawmakers who witnessed the attack
Lawmakers who were trapped together in the House during the insurrection attended Thursday’s hearing after having dinner together. The lawmakers were caught in an upper gallery of the chamber as rioters beat on the doors.
Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota, said the House members, who were eventually relocated without harm, are dismayed that an event that exposed the fragility of democracy could “somehow be whitewashed by tens of millions of people, including many … here in Congress.”
Some Republican lawmakers have tried to downplay the insurrection, charging that Democrats are overly focused on the attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.
“We want to remind people, we were there, we saw what happened. We know how close we came to the first non-peaceful transition of power in this country,” Phillips said.