WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A congressional committee held its first hearing investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack on Tuesday with testimony by four police officers who struggled against a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters engaging in “medieval” violence and warnings from lawmakers against whitewashing the riot.
FILE PHOTO: Police attempt to clear the U.S. Capitol Building with tear gas as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather outside, in Washington, U.S. January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo
At the Democratic-led House of Representatives investigatory committee’s first hearing, the officer, Aquilino Gonell, described being pummeled by rioters fired up by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battlefield. We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process,” added Gonell, one of four police officers called to testify. “The physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating.”
Gonell fought back tears as he recalled his family watching the violence unfold on television and wondering if he was alive.
The nine-member panel was formed after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, named the committee’s members. Its chairman is Democrat Bennie Thompson.
In his opening remarks, Thompson pledged that the panel’s work will be “guided solely by the facts” and that there is no place for politics or partisanship. He also showed video of the violence, calling it “chilling.”
Most House Republicans opposed the creation of the committee, calling it politically motivated. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel and a fierce critic of Trump, defended the panel’s work and urged a thorough 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,” Cheney said.
Cheney added, “If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic.” She added that she hopes the nation does not become so blinded by partisanship that “we throw away the miracle” of American democracy.
Gonell and Harry Dunn, officers with the U.S. Capitol police, and Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, officers with the District of Columbia police, appeared before the panel, wearing their uniforms.
Dunn, who is Black, said in prepared testimony that rioters called him a racial slur while he was trying to defend the Capitol after he challenged their claims that no one had voted for Biden by telling them that he himself was a Biden supporter.
Fanone was pulled into the crowd of rioters, beaten, attacked with a Taser device and robbed of his badge, police radio and ammunition. As one rioter tried to pull his gun from its holster, Fanone could hear him saying he planned to take it and kill him.
Fanone said he heard a rioter say “kill him with his own gun.” Fanone said he was beaten unconscious and doctors told him he suffered a heart attack.
Four people died on the day of the violence, including one rioter fatally shot by police and three others who died of natural causes. A Capitol police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Two police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than a hundred police officers were injured.
Police were overwhelmed when hundreds of Trump supporters intent upon stopping Congress from formally certifying now-President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory stormed the Capitol, smashing windows, fighting with officers and sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence scrambling for safety.
The riot followed Trump’s speech to supporters in which the Republican repeated his false claims about voting fraud.
“Some people are trying to deny what happened, to whitewash it, to turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th,” Thompson said. “The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.”
“And all of it: for a vile, vile lie,” Thompson, referring to Trump’s false claims of election fraud. “Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground.”
Ahead of the hearing, Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, tried to shift blame for the attack onto Pelosi, saying she had been responsible for security arrangements at the Capitol. McCarthy declined to say whether he thought Trump bore any responsibility.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone