Updated June 9, 2022 at 11:28 p.m. EDT|Published June 9, 2022 at 5:07 p.m. EDT
Leaders of the bipartisan House select committee examining Donald Trump’s drive to subvert the election — and the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, that marked its climax — argued in the panel’s first prime-time hearing Thursday night that the former president bears responsibility for the attack on the seat of American democracy, which left several people dead and threatened to interrupt the transfer of power.
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A police officer who was injured as the pro-Trump mob moved toward the Capitol described what she witnessed as a “war scene,” testifying, “I was slipping in people’s blood.”
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee’s chairman, called the day’s violence the “culmination of an attempted coup.” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the committee, said Trump oversaw a “sophisticated, seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election” even as his top aides told him there was no evidence to support his fantastical claims.
Trump resisted entreaties from his staff to call off the attack, Cheney said, and gave no order to deploy the National Guard. Instead, he issued tweets that were read aloud by members of the mob, according to video presented by the committee, which also showed aides in the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader, running in fear.
Trump expressed agreement with the chants of his supporters to “hang Mike Pence,” said Cheney, who previewed evidence that the president responded with the sentiment: “maybe our supporters have the right idea.”
Snippets of recorded witness interviews showed that top officials in Trump’s White House and campaign knew he had lost the election and communicated this bluntly to the president. William P. Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, told the committee he saw “absolutely zero basis” for claims the election had been stolen.
Trump’s elder daughter, Ivanka Trump, said she treated Barr’s views as decisive. “I accepted what he was saying,” she told the committee. But Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, dismissed as “whining” threats by White House counsel Pat Cipollone to resign in the weeks before Jan. 6, according to a clip of Kushner’s deposition.
Jason Miller, a senior campaign spokesman, said the campaign’s data specialist told Trump in no uncertain terms that internal figures showed “he was going to lose.” The same message was relayed to the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to Alex Cannon, a campaign lawyer charged with examining possible fraud.
“I remember sharing with him that we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states,” said Cannon, who recalled Meadows replying, “so there’s no ‘there’ there.”
Tonight’s hearing focused on the violence unleashed on Jan. 6, the day Congress met to certify the results of the electoral college. It featured live testimony from documentary filmmaker Nick Quested — who was embedded with a right-wing extremist group, the Proud Boys, during the attack — and from Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was injured when the pro-Trump rioters stormed past barricades and breached the Capitol building. Edwards described scenes of “chaos” and “carnage.”
A committee investigator detailed how a Dec. 19, 2020, tweet from Trump promising that the Jan. 6 protest would be “wild” mobilized members of the Proud Boys and another extremist group, the Oath Keepers, who would later come face-to-face with Edwards and other officers.
“They viewed this tweet as a call to arms,” said the investigator, Marcus Childress, who described findings by the Justice Department that the Proud Boys created a chat group a day later and set up a command structure to plan their activities in D.C.
In videos presented at the hearing, pro-Trump rioters who have been charged or sentenced said they came to the Capitol at Trump’s request.
“Trump asked us to come,” one recalled.
“He called me there,” another said.
Trump: Jan. 6 ‘represented the greatest movement in the history’
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In responding to the hearing on Thursday, former president Donald Trump criticized the committee for not featuring “positive witnesses and statements,” and he seemed to embrace the violence of the insurrection.
“January 6th was not simply a protest, it represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again,” he wrote in a statement.
Officer’s ‘insurrection’ shirt a message for ‘trolls,’ ‘elected officials’
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U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn did not testify Thursday, but he arrived with a message — a T-shirt with the definition of the word “insurrection.”
There are two — “A violent uprising against an authority or government,” and “January 6, 2021.”
After the hearing, he explained: “So many people have been saying that it wasn’t an insurrection, from trolls on the internet to elected officials,” he told reporters. So, he said, he was “just making a statement” by putting the definition (from the Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military) on his shirt.
Dunn was there to support witness Caroline Edwards, whom he trained. “I looked at her like a little sister,” he said, “I was just really proud of her.” But watching her testify about fighting through a concussion and seeing her colleagues fall around her as she slipped in their blood, he said, was also traumatic. “The pain was palpable. You can feel it. And that was just really rough to get through,” he said.
Analysis: 6 takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee’s first prime-time hearing
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Now that the first Jan. 6 prime-time hearing is over, Amber Phillips has six takeaways:
The committee holds Trump responsible for the attack. “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.” That is the top Republican on the committee (and one of only two who agreed to participate with Democrats), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) directly laying the blame for the violence on Trump.
How the committee plans to tell its story. It was always going to be a challenge for the committee to focus the public’s attention on an event from more than a year ago — and to do it over a series of hearings for a month. On Thursday, it laid out exactly how it will try to tell the story of the Jan. 6 attack and who was responsible for it.
A sharp attack on Trump’s Republican defenders. Top Republican lawmakers — even Pence, whose life was threatened by the attackers — have spent the year and a half since the attack downplaying what happened. It’s now a badge of honor in some circles to have been in D.C. protesting election results or to be labeled an insurrectionist.
After the hearing, long hugs and murmurs of thanks
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At the conclusion of the hearing, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards embraced Sandra Garza, the longtime partner of Brian D. Sicknick, an officer who died a day after he confronted rioters. Lawmakers on the panel approached the front-line of officers who bore witness to the insurrection — and the hearing — and expressed gratitude for their service and presence.
Analysis: Jan. 6 is told through police body cameras and GoPros
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Congressional hearings are historically about speeches and testimony, but Jan. 6 has shifted the focus toward video. From shaky montages of violence, prerecorded interviews of former Trump aides and documentary clips about extremist groups, this prime-time hearing centers on screens, not microphones.
In many ways, Jan. 6 is a dark moment in American history told through the eyes of police body cameras and GoPros. Such video evidence has been essential to the massive Justice Department investigation and prosecution of more than 820 defendants to date, and at congressional hearings over the last year, video packages have conveyed, in a way that perhaps personal testimony cannot, the terror and chaos of that day.
British filmmaker offers firsthand account of Proud Boys’ violence
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Nick Quested, a British documentary maker who was in Washington filming the Proud Boys for a project on American polarization, took much of the previously unseen footage presented by the committee Thursday that suggested President Donald Trump’s words were received by extremists as a battle cry.
Quested, who had filmed the Proud Boys at previous events, had unusual access to extremist leaders who eventually would be seen by prosecutors as architects of the Capitol attack: the Proud Boys’ then-chairman Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes. Quested’s cameras captured a parking-lot meeting between the two on the eve of Jan. 6, though the conversation was mostly inaudible.
The next morning, Quested said, he met up with the Proud Boys again. The mood, the filmmaker said, was “much darker” than at previous rallies. The numbers were also unusual — an estimated 250 to 300 Proud Boys preparing to march on the Capitol.
Quested was separated from his colleagues as he watched “the crowd turn from protesters to rioters to insurrectionists.”
“I was surprised at the size of the group, the anger and the profanity,” Quested testified. “And for anyone who didn’t understand how violent that event was, I saw it, I documented it, and I experienced it.”
Capitol police officer describes injuries from Capitol attack
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Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards recounted her brutal injuries and the “carnage” of the Capitol attack during her testimony to the committee.
Edwards described her own injuries, noting that rioters struck her head with a bike rack, pushed her backward and caused her to blackout after hitting her head on the concrete below. When she regained consciousness, Edwards said “adrenaline kicked in” and she rushed to support other officers who had been pushed back by the rioters.
“I felt the bike rack come on top of my head and I was pushed backwards and my foot caught the stair behind me and my chin hit the handrail and at that point I had blacked out but the back of my head hit the concrete stairs behind me,” Edwards recounted to the committee.
“It was carnage. It was chaos,” Edwards said.
“When I fell behind that line … I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene,” Edwards said. When members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group, assembled on the outskirts of the Capitol, Edwards said she quickly realized the aggravated mob would soon turn violent.
She also described how the rioters had begun heckling the Capitol Police officers and “started turning the tables on us” before advancing on the barricades.
“It was something like I had seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground they were bleeding. They were throwing up. They were, you know, they had, I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood,” Edwards said.
Georgia official on Capitol Police officer: ‘She’s the real patriot’
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“She’s the real patriot in all of this.”
That reflection comes from Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state in Georgia — and the former college pal of Caroline Edwards, the Capitol Police officer whose harrowing testimony recounted her own injury on Jan. 6, 2021, and that of her colleagues.
Fuchs’s boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, will testify before the committee on June 21, as Edwards did on Thursday. The two college classmates were reunited a few months ago, when Raffensperger invited Edwards to the Georgia Capitol to honor her service protecting the U.S. Capitol.
“She didn’t deserve anything she went through,” Fuchs said.
Rioters say Trump ‘personally asked for us to come to D.C. that day’
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The first public hearing by the Jan. 6 committee ended with a video of a half-dozen rioters explaining, in their own words, why they went to Washington — and to the Capitol — that day. All pointed to Trump, whom they felt had personally invited them to Washington.
“What really made me want to come was the fact that I had supported Trump all that time. I did believe, you know, that the election was being stolen and Trump asked us to come,” said Robert Schornack, who was later sentenced to 36 months of probation for his role in the riot. “Trump has only asked me for two things. He asked me for my vote and he asked me to come on Jan. 6th.”
Rioter Eric Barber, who was later charged with theft and unlawful demonstration in the Capitol, said Trump “personally asked for us to come to D.C. that day. And I thought for everythinghe’s done for us, if this is the only thing he’s going to ask of me, I’ll do it.”
Barber said he remembered specifically Trump vowing to march down to the Capitol with them during his speech before the insurrection.
“Oh, yeah, so that’s one of my disappointments, is that he was going to go — go with us, that he was going to be there,” Barber said.
Rioter John Wright, who is awaiting trial for felony civil disorder and other charges, also said he was there to support Trump.
“I know why I was there, and that’s because he called me there and he laid out what is happening in our government,” Wright said. “He laid it out.”
Capitol Police officer describes ‘war scene’ at Capitol
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Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards said the “war scene” she encountered as she sought to defend the Capitol from a pro-Trump mob was “something like I’d scene out of the movies.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she told the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. “There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”
She said her training did not prepare for the “carnage” and “chaos” at the seat of American democracy. “I’m trained to detain a couple of subjects and handle a crowd,” she said. “I’m not combat-trained. That day, it was hours of hand-to-hand combat.”
Capitol police officer: ‘I was slipping in people’s blood’
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Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards describing the pain and suffering of fellow officer Brian D. Sicknick, who later died, is perhaps the most chilling moment we’ve witnessed so far.
With a small quiver in her voice, at times, she walked the audience through watching Sicknick turn “as pale as this sheet of paper” shortly before she was tear-gassed. She continued to describe a “war scene” with a steady voice, displaying little emotion.
“They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I was slipping in people’s blood,” she said. “It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think as a police officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.”
Edwards recalls moment fellow officer Sicknick was overcome in riot
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Caroline Edwards, the first law enforcement officer injured in the Jan. 6 attack, recalled how fellow Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick fought the pro-Trump mob alongside her for “about 30 to 45 minutes” before turning “ghostly pale.”
“We were just, you know, grappling over bike racks and trying to hold them as quick as possible,” Edwards told the panel Thursday.
“All of the sudden, I see movement to the left of me, and I turned and it was officer Sicknick, with his head in his hands, and he was ghostly pale,” Edwards said.
Edwards at first thought Sicknick had been pepper-sprayed. But then, her “cop alarms went off.”
“I was concerned,” she said, “because if you get sprayed with pepper spray, you’re going to turn red.”
Raising a white piece of paper, she said: “He turned just about as pale as a sheet of paper.”
“So I looked back to see what he hit, what had happened, and that’s when I got sprayed in the eyes as well,” she said.
The panel then played a video of the moment the officers were attacked.
Sicknick suffered two strokes and died a day after the attack. His family was in the audience Thursday as Edwards offered her testimony.
Officer details Proud Boys’ role in attack that launched breach
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Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards calmly described how she was assaulted at the very beginning of the Capitol breach — the first of many injuries among police officers that day. She was one of five officers on the edge of the Capitol grounds guarded only by a bike rack.
“It was the crowd led by Joseph Biggs,” she said, a reference to one of five Proud Boys leaders charged in a seditious conspiracy to block the transfer of power. She said the group was not “extremely cohesive,” but some had bulletproof vests. Biggs had a megaphone, she said, and was urging the crowd on. “Then the tables started turning,” she said once. a group with “orange hats” approached, yelling. “Joseph Biggs’s rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police,” she said. Proud Boys from Arizona wore orange beanies that day, a filmmaker had just testified.
“I’ve worked, I can, you know, conservatively say probably hundreds of civil disturbance events,” Edwards testified. “I know when I’m being turned into a villain, and that’s when I turn to my sergeant. And I stated the understatement of the century. I said, ‘Sarge, I think we’re going to need a few more people down here.’ ”
Biggs “started conferring” with another man, Ryan Samsel, who then used one of the bike racks to knock Edwards unconscious, she testified.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal says she is ‘feeling the trauma viscerally’
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“Deep anger.” “Incredible sadness.” “Feeling the trauma viscerally.”
That’s the way Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) described her emotions as she watched the first part of the Jan. 6 hearing a year and a half after surviving the Capitol insurrection.
She sat in the hearing room alongside other Democrats who were all trapped in the chamber that day, a group that has since formed an unshakable bond. Reliving the scenes of that day felt different, Jayapal explained, because the presentation was interspersed with testimony from Donald Trump’s own administration officials denying his false claim that the election was stolen.
Asked by The Washington Post whether she really believes the hearing will change hearts and minds, especially of Trump’s staunchest supporters, Jayapal said she has “to believe … that it will.”
“These are facts being laid out by [former attorney general] Bill Barr, these aren’t partisan voices that are speaking out and saying ‘We don’t like Donald Trump.’ This is his own attorney general, the White House counsel, his daughter, for Pete’s sake. If somebody cannot look at this and put country over party, I don’t know what to say,” she said.
What rattled Jayapal the most, however, was the question why viewing the footage was so difficult for her.
“This is our country,” she said as her lips quivered and eyes filled with tears. “I came here as an immigrant because this is the greatest democracy in the world. And I never imagined that in doing my job, that we would not be safe to do our jobs and that we would feel so helpless in that moment to protect our democracy.”