WASHINGTON — House investigators are making the case to the American public in a prime-time hearing that the violent insurrection by President Donald Trump’s supporters should not be forgotten.
While the basics of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the 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 — including video of police officers being brutally beaten and right-wing extremists leading the crowds into the Capitol — come 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 Thursday evening. “The American people deserve answers.”
Takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee's first hearing:
LAYING IT ALL ON TRUMP
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 coordinated 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.
TRUMP'S INNER CIRCLE SPEAKS
The hearing featured never-before-seen video testimony from Trump's family and close aides, many of whom were interviewed by the committee remotely.
The panel started the hearing by showing its video interview with former Attorney General Bill Barr, 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, told the committee members that he had told Trump it was all “bull——.”
The panel also showed video testimony from Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, who spoke to the committee in April. Ivanka Trump told the panel that Barr's declaration “affected my perspective.”
“I respect Attorney General Barr so I accepted what he said,” she told the committee.
Another Trump adviser, Jason Miller, told the panel that campaign advisors had told the president in “clear terms” that he had lost the election.
‘THIS ISN'T EASY TO WATCH’
The committee showed new, graphic video from the insurrection, moving through a timeline of the violence. It started with rioters angrily walking toward the Capitol, then showed them breaking through thin police barriers and brutally beating police.
Using security footage, police body cameras, video from those who broke in and audio from the police scanner, the video showed rioters using flagpoles, tactical equipment and other weapons to hit officers as they overwhelmed them and broke inside. Some of the body camera footage was from the ground looking up, as officers watched their attackers beat them.
At the same time, it showed what was happening inside — the beginning of the joint session to certify Biden's election win and, eventually, some lawmakers, including House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, fleeing from the violence.
And it showed the rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” referring to the vice president who had defied Trump's orders to try to thwart Biden's certification, and chanting “Nancy! Nancy!” referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
MADE FOR TELEVISION
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.
'WE WERE THERE'
Lawmakers who were trapped together in the House during the insurrection are attending Thursday’s hearing after having dinner together. The members, all Democrats, were caught in an upper gallery of the chamber as rioters beat on the doors.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said the House members, who were eventually evacuated without harm, are dismayed that an event that exposed the fragility of democracy could “somehow be whitewashed by tens of millions of people."
Some GOP 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.