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January 6 hearing: Capitol riot inquiry invokes emotional police testimony

At times wiping away tears, four officers detailed the repeated violent attacks by the pro-Trump mob. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, was also overcome.

The House select committee formed to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol convened its first hearing on Tuesday, hosting a panel of four police officers who defended the building against a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The testimony, which included new video footage from the day, was both emotional and dramatic, as the officers described being overwhelmed by rioters who were better equipped for the battle that unfolded.

  • Officer Dunn, a 13-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, recounted enduring racist slurs, in powerful testimony about confronting the mob. More on the officers here.
  • The officers provided chilling, detailed accounts of being knocked unconscious, beaten and fearing death at the hands of a mob that outnumbered them. They choked up reliving the hand-to-hand combat they faced on Jan. 6.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., issued striking criticism of her party for blocking an independent commission to examine the attack. She is one of two Republicans serving on the committee, at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's invitation.

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Cheney’s striking criticism of GOP leadership

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney's appearance at the hearing was an act of defiance against Republican Party leaders, including former President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

But that was nothing compared to what she said in her opening statement about what she described as GOP efforts to cover up what happened and the importance of ex-White House aides testifying against Trump. 

"On January 6 and the days thereafter, almost all members of my party recognized the events that day for what they actually were," Cheney said. "One Republican, for example, said, quote, 'What is happening at the U.S. Capitol right now is unacceptable and un-American. Those participating in lawlessness and violence must be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.'"

That member: Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., who has since sought to discredit the investigation and was appointed to the committee by McCarthy before Pelosi nixed the selection.

"We must overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts," Cheney said.

Even for a lawmaker who has criticized her party's leaders publicly before, Cheney's shaming of fellow Republicans while under the spotlight of such a high-profile congressional hearing was breathtaking, and she made clear she was doing it in what she believes is the best interest of the party and the country.

Cheney also urged fellow Republicans who served under Trump to give the committee insight into what the then-president was doing as some of his supporters stormed the Capitol.

"We must know what happened here at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the white House," Cheney said. "Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack. Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward. If those responsible are not." 

Ultimately, the participation or absence of those former aides — and the picture they can draw of Trump — will go a long way to determining how close the committee can get to drawing a full picture of the riot.

Officer Fanone says he was 'at risk of getting killed with my own firearm' by Jan. 6 mob

Michael Fanone, an officer with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, said he decided not to use his firearm on the mob that attacked him outside the Capitol because he worried they would see the escalation as a reason to kill him. 

"'Kill him with his own gun,'" he recalled one rioter saying. "I still hear those words in my head today."

He said the events were "unlike anything I've ever seen" or "could've imagined happening in my country."

"I was grabbed, beaten, tased," Fanone said in his opening testimony. "All while being called a traitor to my country."

He said he was dragged into the crowd. Rioters grabbed his badge and ammunition, beating him with fists and metal objects. "I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser," he said, adding that watching footage of the riot is painful for him.

Fanone blasted the "indifference" shown to him and his colleagues by Republican members who've downplayed the riot — slamming his fist down on the table as he noted it.

Sgt. Gonell becomes emotional as he details defending the Capitol

Sgt. Gonell became emotional sharing his terrifying experience defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, pausing several times in his testimony as he detailed how he could have died. 

"I was falsely accused of betraying my 'oath' and of choosing my 'paycheck' over my loyalty to the U.S. Constitution – even as I defended the very democratic process that protected everyone in that hostile crowd," Gonell said in his opening statement. 

He said that the rioters "called me a 'traitor,' a 'disgrace,' and shouted that I (an Army veteran and police officer) should be 'executed.'"

Gonell, an immigrant, described growing up and seeing America as a symbol of freedom. He choked up as he explained that he later found out that his wife and relatives in the U.S. and abroad were frantically calling and texting him from 2 p.m. onward that day. But he couldn't let his family know until 4:26 p.m. that he was alive. 

"I could have lost my life that day, but as soon as I recover from my injuries I will continue forward and proudly serve my country and the U.S. Capitol Police," he said.

Rep. Thompson: 'A peaceful transfer of power did not happen this year'

Capitol Police officers testifying at hearing watch video footage of Jan. 6

While the video footage from Jan. 6 played in the room during Thompson's opening statement, the four Capitol Police officers watched attentively. 

Sgt. Gonell took a Kleenex and wiped his eyes at least three times. At one point, Officer Fanone stopped watching and looked down. He looked back up and started to watch again about 30 seconds later. 

During the video of Officer Hodges in the door, Hodges shifted slightly in his chair but didn't look away.

At another point, Fanone looked down and then over to his right at Gonell. He then stood up and whispered something to Gonell and clenched his shoulder, offering a measure of solidarity and support.

Thompson cuts to video during his opening statement

About halfway through his opening statement, Thompson cut to video and audio footage of the Jan. 6 riot to bolster his point.

The footage showed the violence police officers faced from the mob, distressed calls they made back to dispatchers, and calls from rioters to harm House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and then-Vice President Mike Pence.

Cheney says committee must investigate 'what happened every minute of that day in the White House'

The American public deserves "the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation" for Jan. 6, Cheney said in her opening statement, criticizing her own party for not joining the investigation. 

"We must know what happened here at the Capitol. 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."

Cheney said that the committee must enforce subpoenas "promptly" and must "overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts."

The Wyoming Republican said that every lawmaker and elected official across the country have a question to ask themselves in the wake of Jan. 6. 

"Will we adhere to the rule of law, respect the rulings of our courts, and preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution?"

Officer Dunn to say he endured racial slurs, physical exhaustion during Capitol attack

Officer Harry Dunn, a 13-veteran of the Capitol Police force, will testify that on the day of the Jan. 6 attack, he endured racial slurs from the mob and physical assault. 

"No one had ever-ever-called me a n----- while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer," Dunn will say during his opening statement, using a racial slur. He will add, according to prepared remarks, that in the days following other Black officers also told him their stories of racial abuse Jan. 6.

Dunn will recall being drained "both physically and emotionally, and in shock and disbelief over what had happened."

Dunn said he has had to attend multiple counseling sessions and is now receiving private counseling therapy for the persistent emotional trauma. He will also urge the committee to review the services available to officers, specifically the amount of leave they are allotted. 

Thompson in opening statement says Capitol rioters nearly succeeded

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is chairing the committee, said in his opening statement that the Capitol rioters "came dangerously close to succeeding" on Jan. 6 and that while President Joe Biden took office, a peaceful transfer of power "didn't happen this year."

"These rioters were organized. They were ready for a fight. And they came close to succeeding," Thompson said. "It’s frightening to think about how close we were. A few inches of wood and glass. An officer turning left instead of turning right."

He criticized those seeking to "whitewash" the events of Jan. 6 — some Republicans have suggested the event has been overblown — and said it would not have taken place if not for the lies spread about last fall's election.

"We need to understand how and why the Big Lie festered," Thompson said. "We need to know minute by minute how January 6th unfolded. We need to understand how the rotten lie behind January 6th has continued to spread and feed the forces that would undermine American democracy. And we need to figure out how to fix the damage."

Capitol Police Officer Gonell to say he was more afraid Jan. 6 than during Army deployment to Iraq

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, one of the Capitol Police officers testifying Tuesday, will say in his opening statement that on Jan. 6 he felt like he was experiencing "something from a medieval battlefield." 

"On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, we expected armed violence, because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the Army, or as a law enforcement officer, prepared me for what we confronted on Jan. 6," he will say, according to prepared remarks. 

Gonell will say that he and other officers were "punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers" that day and sustained injuries to his hands, his left shoulder, his left calf and right foot. He has undergone fusion surgery on his foot, he said, and was told he needs surgery on his shoulder. He said he's been on medical and administrative leave for the last six months.

"For most people, Jan. 6 happened for a few hours that day. But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended," he will say. "That day continues to be a constant trauma for us literally every day, whether because of our physical or emotional injuries, or both."

House Republicans lash out at Pelosi ahead of first Jan. 6 hearing

House Republicans lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of the first hearing on the Jan. 6 attack, saying Democrats are trying to promote a certain narrative about the riot and cover up for Pelosi. 

"Why were we ill-prepared for that day," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said at a press conference outside the Capitol, repeating a talking point that Pelosi bears some responsibility for the riot. 

McCarthy said that Republicans want to participate, but Pelosi is trying to prevent his members from asking the "tough questions" about why U.S. Capitol Police weren't prepared to take on hundreds of Trump supporters who rioted outside the Capitol, with many storming the building. 

He said that because Pelosi won't seat the members he appointed, it "becomes a failed committee and a failed report, a sham that no one can believe."

Elise Stefanik of New York, who was selected as the House GOP Conference chair after select committee member Liz Cheney was ousted from the No. 3 leadership position, said, "The American people deserve to know the truth that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6 And it was only after Republicans started asking these important questions that she refused to seat them."