The House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol laid out some of its preliminary findings in its first prime-time hearing on June 9, presenting evidence ranging from public testimonies by key figures to documentary footage by a filmmaker who witnessed the events unfold in Washington, DC. Writes Svetlana Ekimenko
The House committee investigating the events surrounding the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, laid out its case against former President Donald Trump during its first public hearing on 9 June.
Last year, on 6 January, supporters of then-US President Donald Trump attempted to prevent the presidential election results that Trump had dismissed as fraudulent from being certified, storming the US Capitol and temporarily dispersing Congress. However, they failed in their attempt and Joe Biden was sworn in several weeks later. As a result of events at the Capitol, five people, including a police officer, died.
Juggling an array of new footage, previously unseen video testimonies of Trump’s inner circle, text messages, guest logs and social media posts, the seven Democrats and two Republicans claimed the US Capitol attack was an “attempted coup”. The panel also dramatically warned that “democracy remains in danger”.
Here are five key items from the first of a spate of looming hearings into last year’s Capitol Riot, broadcast live on prime time television.
‘Culmination of Attempted Coup’
House select committee chairman, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, and vice-chairman, GOP Representative Liz Cheney, squarely blamed the 45th president for the 6 January attack on the US Capitol.
Video testimony from Trump’s former attorney-general Bill Barr, and daughter and former adviser Ivanka Trump, as well as other allies was seen by the panel making the case that the former president was working to undermine the 2020 election results.
Cheney, who has faced GOP backlash for becoming a prominent critic of Trump, added during her opening statement that there was “no room for debate”, and assembled evidence to prove that Trump had a “sophisticated seven-part plan” to overturn the election.
“On the morning of 6 January, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States, despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power… President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” said the Wyoming Republican, who had been among those voting to impeach Trump in 2021.
Cheney did not specify the points of Trump’s alleged “plan”.
‘Bulls**t’ Fraud Claims
Donald Trump’s own administration and allies had disagreed with his insistence that the November 2020 presidential election had been “rigged”, claimed the panel.
It pointed to a clip of recorded testimony where Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter and adviser, said she had accepted former attorney-general Bill Barr’s conclusion that allegations of voter rigging in the election had “zero basis”. When asked by the panel how Barr’s stance had affected her viewpoint on the 2020 election, she replied:
The House Select Committee also showed a video of Barr’s appearance before panel investigators where he dismissed Trump’s fraud claims as “bulls**t,” adding that he had “repeatedly told the president in no uncertain terms that I did not see evidence of fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election. And frankly, a year and a half later, I still haven’t.”
British documentary filmmaker Nick Quested testified to the “premeditated” violence of the events on 6 January 2021.
Quested, who had been embedded with the Proud Boys for the period leading up to the 6 January attack offered footage and testimony suggesting the Proud Boys had planned to attack.
Five leaders of the American all-male right-wing group, including its former chairman, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, were federally indicted on seditious conspiracy charges in June 2022, for their alleged roles in the 2021 US Capitol attack.
Quested testified that on the morning of 6 January he was confused to see “a couple of hundred” Proud Boys walking away from Trump’s speech and toward the Capitol.
As a joint session of Congress met that day to certify president-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, Trump addressed his supporters to reiterate that he would “never give up… never concede” the results of voting which he claimed had been “rigged’.
The House committee implied that the Proud Boys might have attempted to scope out the defences and weak spots at the Capitol.
‘Carnage & Chaos’
Capitol officer Caroline Edwards also offered up some graphic footage and testimony. The woman had been in the frontline of defence against the rioters, and likened the scene at the time to a “war zone”.
“It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw,” she said, adding: “Literal blood, sweat and tears were shed that day defending the building.”
Work to ‘Subvert’ Election Results
As the attack on the Capitol was underway, claimed the hearing, “the Trump legal team in the Willard Hotel war room”, continued attempts to subvert the election results, Cheney said.
After then-vice president Mike Pence rejected Trump’s calls to block the election certification, the ex-president’s supporters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” The committee presented evidence at the hearing that Trump had suggested that, “Mike Pence deserves it”.
The Democrats have blamed Trump’s claims of voter fraud for inciting the so-called insurrection at the Capitol. Trump, who denied any culpability, was accused of “inciting an insurrection” and impeached by the US House of Representatives. He was later acquitted by the US Senate in a trial weeks after he left office.
Donald Trump and other critics have said the work of the House select committee is no more than a show trial intended to score political points.
Although the committee cannot bring legal charges against Trump, its self-appointed mission has ostensibly been to uncover the full scope of Trump’s alleged attempt to stop the transfer of presidential power.
However, Republican lawmakers have slammed the timing of the hearings, claiming it is an effort by Democrats to undermine Republicans in the forthcoming mid-term elections in November.
Trump, in a social media message after the hearing, criticized the committee for not showing “the many positive witnesses and statements” and playing “only negative footage”.
The House Select Committee plans to hold seven hearings. Three have been officially announced so far, besides the one on June 9. They are set for 13, 15 and 16 June.
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