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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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Gonell calls attack 'an attempted coup,' says U.S. would have sent help to another country

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., showed Jan, 6. body camera footage from Sgt. Gonell, who called the attack on the Capitol an "attempted coup."

"If it had been another country, the U.S. would have sent help," Gonell said. 

"They were calling us traitors," Gonell said about Trump's supporters, "Even though they were the one doing, committing the treasonous acts that day."

Referring to why he wanted to return to his job at the Capitol despite concerns from his family, Gonell said Tuesday, "My sense of duty for the country, for the Constitution, at that time was bigger than even my love for my wife and my, my son. I put that ahead."

'I was up s--- creek without a paddle': Officer Fanone describes mob attacking him

Fanone, an officer with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, recalled being violently assaulted from every direction and eventually pulling himself away.

"I knew I was up s--- creek without a paddle," he said, breaking his emotional testimony to chuckle softly at the cliché. His tone then turned serious as he walked the panel through a video clip of his body camera footage from the attack that had just been been shown.

"I was trying to push guys off of me, create some space." Fanone said. 

Individuals were trying to grab Fanone's gun and he specifically remembers one of them lunging at him, time and time again. "I heard people in the crowd yelling, 'Get his gun. Kill him with his own gun.'"

Fanone said he thought about using his weapon and believed there were individuals who wanted to kill him.

While the mood in the room has been somber as the officers testify, there's a noticeable shift when video footage plays. As the clip from Fanone's body camera aired, the officers watched, with Fanone looking away very briefly at one point.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., kept glancing between the video and the officers. All committee members were listening intently as Fanone described the scene.

Kinzinger gets emotional as his questioning begins

An emotional Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, choked up as he began his allotted questioning time.

He praised the officers for their actions on Jan. 6 and condemned how other Republicans are handling the inquiries about the riot as a partisan brawl.

"I'm a Republican, I'm a conservative," he said, adding, "It's time to stop the outrage and the conspiracies" and "we need to reject those who promote it."

Kinzinger added he's on the panel "to investigate Jan. 6 not in spite of my membership in the Republican Party, but because of it."

'It's insulting': Gonell responds to Trump's assertion that there was a 'lot of love' in the crowd

Cheney asked Sgt. Gonell how he feels hearing former President Trump describe there being a "lot of love" in the crowd of his supporters on Jan. 6 when they attacked the Capitol. 

"If those are hugs and kisses, we all should go to his house and do the same things to him," Gonell said.

"To me, it's insulting, it's demoralizing," he continued. 

A few minutes later, he said that he didn't mean that people should literally go to Trump's house and said he apologizes for his "outburst." 

Gonell said that he and other officers tried to prevent everyone inside the Capitol from getting hurt and instead of sending in the military, he said that Trump "egged" on his supporters to continue fighting. 

'Words are weapons': Dunn reflects on mob berating him with racial slurs

After delivering powerful testimony about being bombarded with racial slurs on Jan. 6, Officer Dunn, who is Black, called the words "weapons."

"Disheartening that we live in a country with people like that," Dunn said, "who attack you based on the color of your skin. Those words are weapons."

"Once I was able to process it, it hurt," he added. "It hurt just reading it now, thinking about it. ... It just hurts that we have people in this country that result to that regardless of your actions and what you desire to do to make a difference out there."

In his opening testimony, Dunn said he responded to the mob suggesting that no one voted for President Joe Biden that Dunn himself had voted for him.

"'You hear that guys? This n----- voted for Joe Biden,'" Dunn said someone in the crowd responded, adding the more people shouted: "'Boooo, f------ n----.'"

"No one had ever ever called me a n----- while wearing a uniform," Dunn said.

Analysis: McCarthy chooses not to defend (or condemn) actions of Trump, his supporters

Republican leaders have chosen to neither defend nor condemn former President Donald Trump and his supporters who stormed the Capitol in his name Jan. 6. 

The voluntary silence is effectively a plea of no contest to allegations that House GOP leaders have acted as accessories after the fact in fighting against the investigation.

Those who deny what happened or play it down, "betray their oath of office," Officer Michael Fanone said during his opening testimony.

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful," he said, raising his voice and slamming the table.

The only Republicans participating in the hearing — Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. — were appointed by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over the objections of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

McCarthy chose to withdraw the rest of his party's appointees to the panel when Pelosi nixed two lawmakers who have cast doubt on the inquiry, the danger posed by the rioters and the risk the attack created for the republic.

In doing so, he gave up the opportunity to create distance between Republican officials, including Trump, and the rioters. McCarthy opted not to defend any of them. And maybe that's because it's impossible to defend the indefensible. 

Biden not expected to watch select committee hearing live

President Joe Biden is not expected to be watching the Jan. 6 hearing in real-time due to his schedule, according to multiple White House officials.

He will likely watch clips or headlines but he’s not sitting down and watching it, according to officials. 

Another official said the president fully supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the committee leadership, and the courage of those testifying who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Officers around the Capitol watch the hearing on their phones

Officers around the Capitol complex Tuesday were seen watching the hearing on their phones as their fellow officers delivered emotional testimony about their experiences defending the building before the select committee. 

Many officers were huddled together as they watched. A few remarked to NBC News how important it was to witness. 

D.C. officer Hodges describes how he was violently attacked, pinned against a door

D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Daniel Hodges described how he was violently attacked on Jan. 6, calling the rioters "terrorists" and recounting being told "you will die on your knees." 

As they rioters marched toward the Capitol, Hodges said a man yelled, "'Here come the boys in blue.'" Other people booed, calling them "stormtroopers" and "traitors," he said in his testimony. 

While defending inside the Capitol, he said someone pushed his thumb into his eye, "attempting to gauge it out." 

One man, he said, grabbed the front of Hodge's gas mask and beat his head against the door with it. Hodges said that the man was "foaming at the mouth." 

"I knew I couldn't sustain much more damage and remain upright," said Hodges, who said that he was afraid he was going to collapse and be a liability to his colleagues or "dragged into the crowd and lynched."

"I did the only thing that it could do and screamed for help," he said.

Sgt. Gonell breaks down in tears

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell wipes his eye as he watches a video being displayed during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 27, 2021.Jim Bourg / Pool via AP

Gonell testified moments later that he thought he could have died that day, defending the Capitol from the pro-Trump mob.

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.