The House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol opened Thursday in prime time with all the drama promised, as top committee members from both major political parties blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting violence and trying to block the certification of the presidential election at the U.S. Capitol.
The committee relied heavily on video evidence to demonstrate the scope and violence of the riot that overtook the Capitol, and video interviews to show high-ranking Trump officials — including Trump’s own daughter Ivanka — dismissing Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him.
The committee wasted no time in getting to its preliminary conclusion in its ongoing investigation of the riot, in which more than 100 police officers were injured. “Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy,” said Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi. “Ultimately, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march on the Capitol and subvert American Democracy. January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup… to overthrow the government.”
Breaking with many of her fellow Republicans who have supported Trump’s claims of a stolen election, committee vice chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming held no punches in criticizing the former president. “Those who invaded our Capitol, and battled law enforcement for hours, were motivated by what President Trump had told them, that the election was stolen, and that he was the rightful president,” Cheney said. “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, said the Jan. 6 riot was all just part of a “massive effort to pass false and fraudulent information” to the American public.
The two-hour televised hearing, the first of at least seven scheduled over the coming weeks, featured testimony from a Capitol Police officer injured in the riot as well as documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was working on a documentary about the Proud Boys group central to the insurrection. Video testimony included Trump’s own former Attorney General William Barr saying he told the former president that the stolen election conspiracy theory was “bulls—.”
Thompson said the investigation and these hearings are important because the threat is not necessarily over. “Our democracy remains in danger,” Thompson said.
Here are some highlights of the first night.
1. Trump suggested that Mike Pence “deserved” to be hanged
Testimony from former Trump aides shows that the former president was not worried about Jan. 6 rioters’ threats to “hang Mike Pence” and instead suggested that Pence “deserved it.”
“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,” Liz Cheney said.
In her opening remarks, she also issues a warning to her party: “Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
2. Trump’s own daughter turns on him
Ivanka Trump told the committee that she “accepted” former Attorney General William Barr’s conclusion that there was there was no evidence of fraud sufficient enough to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In a video clip played during the proceeding, a Congressional staff member asks Trump’s daughter: “How did that affect your perspective about the election, when Attorney General Barr made that statement?”
She responded: “It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.”
The video was the first public airing of Ivanka Trump’s views on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
3. Jared Kushner complains about “whining” White House staffers
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior advisor to Pres. Trump, dismissed a threat of mass resignations from then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his staff amid Trump’s repeated false claims of election fraud as mere “whining.”
When asked about the threat of mass resignations, Kushner Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney that he didn’t take it seriously — and that he was occupied with finishing filing presidential pardons. “I kind of, like I said, my interest at that time was on trying to get as many pardons done,” Kushner testified. “And I know that, you know, him and the team were always saying, ‘Oh we’re going to resign, we’re not going to be here if this happens, if that happens,’ so I kind of took it up to just be whining, to be honest to you.”
4. Capitol Police Officer delivers harrowing account of the attacks on her
Former Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards delivered a harrowing account of her experience trying to defend the building despite two brutal assaults on her that were captured on film and shared during the hearing. “I was called a lot of things on January 6, 2021 and the days thereafter,” Edwards said. “I was called Nancy Pelosi’s dog, called incompetent, called a hero and a villain. I was called a traitor to my country, my home, and my Constitution. In actuality, I was none of those things.”
Describing herself s “the proud granddaughter” of a Marine veteran who fought in the Korean War, she pushed back on those who have questioned the actuality or severity of the insurrection. “They dared to question my honor. They dared to question my loyalty. And they dared to question my duty,” she said. “I am a proud American, and I will gladly sacrifice everything to make sure that the America my grandfather defended is here for many years to come.”
5. Documentary evidence of the Proud Boys’ role
British documentary filmmaker Nick Quested told the committee that he began spending time with the white-nationalist group known as the Proud Boys after the 2020 general election as part of an effort to film the growing political hostilities in US politics.
In the process, the Emmy-award winning filmmaker became a witness to history. On Thursday evening, he told the House committee that he keep his camera rolling as the crowd “turned from protestors to rioters to insurrectionists.”
“I was surprised by the size of the group, the anger and the profanity,” he said. “For anyone who didn’t understand how violent that event was, I saw it, I documented it and I experienced it.”
Tellingly, he also said that the Proud Boys whom he was filming began their assault on the Capitol even before Trump began addressing supporters at the Ellipse near the White House.
6. William Barr resigned over Trump’s “bulls—” claims election was stolen
Trump’s former Attorney General, William Barr, told the committee that he resigned in December 2020 due to the former president’s pursuit of unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. “I had three discussions with the president… I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bulls—,” Barr said.
The lifelong Republican, who also served as attorney general for Pres. George H.W. Bush, said he resigned from Trump’s administration because of the false claims. “I didn’t want to be a part of it…you can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view, unsupported by specific evidence, that there was fraud in the election,” Barr said.