The opening hearing on the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was a compact and controlled two-hour session designed as an overview of what was described as a methodical conspiracy, led and coordinated by President Donald J. Trump, to secure the peaceful transfer. of power and democracy itself.
It was also a temptation for the American people to look to the next five scheduled hearings.
Here are some takeaways:
Trump was central to the plot.
The committee’s chairman, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, and Vice-Chairman, Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, began describing what they described as an elaborate, deliberate plan by Mr. Trump to remain in power. a plan unprecedented in American history. and with dangerous consequences for democracy.
“Jan. 6 was the culmination of a coup attempt,” said Mr. Thompson.
Both leaders had hot words for Mr Trump and the threat he poses to American democracy. They made it clear that, for all his ongoing uproar over stolen elections, Mr. Trump had knowingly spread electoral fraud claims that those closest to him knew to be false, tried to hack the apparatus of the government and the courts. to stay in power, and when all that failed, he sat back approvingly in the White House as a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol and threatened to hang his vice president.
Key figures around Trump have never believed his lie of a stolen election.
The hearing used the videotaped testimonies of some of Trump’s closest associates and allies to show that the Trump campaign and his White House — and perhaps the president himself — were well aware that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the 2020 elections. It showed how Mr. Trump and his loyalists had used a calculated campaign of lies to bind his followers and build support for his bid to stay in power, using extrajudicial means and violence.
The commission played out clips of videotaped interviews with former Attorney General William P. Barr, who said he told Trump that talk of widespread fraud in the 2020 election was “bullshit.” There was a clip of his daughter Ivanka Trump saying she accepted Barr’s conclusions and of a campaign attorney, Alex Cannon, who told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that Trump allies had found no election problems resulting in key states. “So there isn’t one there?” mr. Meadows responded, according to Mr. cannon.
At one point, in one of the most potentially damaging moments of the videotaped interviews, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is shown rebuffing the threats made by Pat A. Cipollone, then White House counsel. to resign in the face of Mr Trump’s machinations as ‘nagging’.
A Capitol police officer fighting the rioters humanized the drama.
Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer believed to have been the first injured in the riot, testified in chilling detail about the first breach of police lines, crushing her under bike racks pushed on her and a handful of other people. officers who had no chance to stop the crowd.
“The back of my head clenched against the concrete stairs behind me,” she testified, recounting the moment before she lost consciousness. Her testimony that she continued to fight rioters in their efforts to protect the Capitol was a striking contrast to the commission’s report of Mr. Trump sitting inside the White House watching with apparent sympathy as the mob searched the building and opposed it. assistants begged him to call off the violence and at one point say, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.”
Once she came to and saw the scene from behind the police lines, Officer Edwards said, her breath was taken. She slipped in blood, saw fellow officers writhing in pain and suffering from bear spray and tear gas, and stared at what she described as a war scene set outside the Capitol.
“It was a bloodbath,” she said. “It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw.”
The Proud Boys put in an organized effort.
One of the witnesses, a British documentary filmmaker named Nick Quested, who was embedded with the extremist Proud Boys, testified that the group’s leadership had colluded with another extremist organization, the Oath Keepers, well before the riots to to plan an attack that would breach the Capitol.
Mr Quested showed footage he’d taken of the Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, clandestinely meeting Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers on January 5, and talked about the group breaking away from a morning demonstration behind the White House on January. 6 to explore police defenses around the Capitol.
“I can’t say what will happen today, because everyone should watch,” a woman said on video on the morning of January 6, when there was no sign of an attack.
More to come about the role of Trump and Republicans
The hearing concluded with a hint of what would come in the next hearings, which the committee members hope will show how Mr. Trump was personally responsible for the worst attack on the Capitol since the British looted it in 1814 and that he still poses a threat to the American democratic experiment.
The commission concluded with videos of the rioters themselves saying they believed they had been invited to Washington that day by their president, who had asked them to fight for him.
“He lit the fuse that ultimately resulted in the January 6 violence,” said the committee chairman, Mr. Thompson.
Ms. Cheney, whose insistence on impeaching Mr Trump and participating in the investigation has made her a pariah in her own party, said the case the panel would make would indelibly tarnish Republicans.
“Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who defend the indefensible,” she said. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”