The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol began presenting its findings to the public for the first time Thursday night, seeking to convey to the American people the role former President Donald Trump and his allies played in attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after Jan. 6, to overthrow the government,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening remarks. “The violence was no accident.”
Former President Donald Trump broke his presidential oath the day of the violent insurrection, Thompson said, and the series of public hearings will illuminate exactly what role both he and other administration officials played in the violent riot.
“The American people deserve answers,” he added. “So I come to you this evening, not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us.”
The panel sought to show that the Jan. 6 attack was an “attempted coup” which put “two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk” through never-before-seen video and audio — both from the brutal attack and from hours of interviews and depositions conducted by the committee — as well as testimony from an officer who defended the Capitol and a documentarian who filmed the far-right Proud Boys.
“President Trump summoned a violent mob,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair, said. “When a president fails to take the steps necessary to preserve our union — or worse, causes a constitutional crisis — we’re in a moment of maximum danger for our republic.”
Here are 7 takeaways from Thursday’s primetime hearing:
In her opening remarks, Cheney drew audible gasps from the crowd in the hearing room when she recounted that when Trump heard that the rioters on Jan. 6 were chanting "hang Mike Pence," he replied that his vice president "deserves it."
Cheney, an outspoken critic of the former president, directly linked his rhetoric to the violent insurrection on the Capitol, using his own words to underscore her point.
“At 6:01pm on Jan. 6, after he spent hours watching a violent mob besiege, attack and invade our capitol, Donald Trump tweeted, but he did not condemn the attack,” she said. “Instead, he justified it. ‘These are the things and events that happen,’ he said, 'when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who've been badly and unfairly treated for so long.’
“As you will see in the hearings to come, President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol and I quote, ‘were doing what they should be doing,’” she said. “This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave over a series of hearings in the coming weeks.”
Not only did Trump foment the violence, Cheney claimed, but he also did nothing to stop threats aimed at some of the top people in his administration. While supporters of the former president stormed the Capitol – some chanting to “Hang Mike Pence,” as the second-in-command refused to overturn the results of the election – Trump appeared to agree with them.
“The president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves it,’” Cheney said Thursday.
Cheney commended Pence’s actions that day, saying he “knew that he had a higher duty to the United States Constitution.”
Trump, she charged, did not.
"Those who invaded our Capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them," she said. "President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame.
“You will hear (in future hearings) evidence that President Trump refused for hours to do what his staff, his family and many of his other advisers begged him to do: immediately instruct his supporters to stand down and evacuate the Capitol,” Cheney said.
The first video the Jan. 6 committee showed during the hearing was of former Attorney General Bill Barr saying he pushed back on Trump’s claims that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 presidential election.
In his interview with the committee, Barr, who led the Justice Department during the election, said he had three discussions with Trump in November and December 2020 about his grievances.
“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 b*******. And, you know, I didn't want to be a part of it. And that's one of the reasons that went into me deciding to leave when I did.”
Barr submitted his resignation on Dec. 14, 2020, which took effect nine days later.
The former attorney general said on Dec. 1, 2020, he “observed” that “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.”
In a separate clip, Barr said he told Trump in “no uncertain terms” that he did not see evidence of fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election.
“And frankly, a year and a half later, I haven't seen anything to change my mind on that,” he said.
Barr also said he saw “zero basis for the allegations” that Dominion voting machines were rigged against Trump.
“But they (the allegations) were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people, members of the public, that there was this systemic corruption in the system and that their votes didn't count and that these machines controlled by somebody else were actually determining it, which was complete nonsense.”
The clip of Barr's interview was far from the only new video the panel showed as part of its presentation on Thursday.
Following the Barr clips, Cheney then played a clip of Ivanka Trump -- Trump's eldest daughter and a former White House adviser -- saying she accepted Barr's comments about voter fraud.
"It affected my perspective," Ivanka Trump said. "I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he said was said."
The committee also played video of Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner, and former President Trump’s son-in-law who served as a senior adviser in the White House. Kushner was asked in his interview with the panel if he was aware of then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone threatened on multiple occasions to resign because he “was so concerned about potentially lawless activity.”
“He 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,’” Kushner said. “So I kind of took it to just be whining, to be honest with you.”
Over the course of the hearing, the committee shared a compilation of chilling video and audio clips – some never before revealed to the American people – of the violence that occurred in and around the Capitol on Jan. 6 during the first public hearing on the fateful day.
The first such video came before a break in Thursday’s hearing, and Thompson warned it would not be easy to watch.
“I want to warn everyone that this video includes violence and strong language,” he said – and, sure enough, the footage elicited tears from those gathered to watch the proceedings.
The video started with swarms of Trump supporters gathered on the National Mall, some warning that “everyone’s just gonna have to watch for themselves” to see what would unfold; other video from inside the Capitol showed rioters chanting “Nancy, Nancy, Nancy” as they searched the building for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. One protester warned he would lay down his life for the cause, if that’s what the day came to.
The committee also played frantic audio clips from law enforcement present at the scene, capturing the shock and horror of that day.
"Look at all these f****** people. We're f*****,” one clip said.
"Hold the line! Hold the line!" another officer shouted around 2 p.m., according to the video.
Then, later: “I need support” followed by “we lost the line.”
Much of the never-before-seen footage came from U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who was the first in-person witness called Thursday.
With both her words and video from the day, Edwards painted a vivid picture of the violence outside the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, saying she and her fellow officers were not prepared to enter what was akin to a warzone.
Edwards, who was one of the first law enforcement officers injured, described falling behind a line of Metropolitan Police Department officers, when she first saw the scale of the chaos unfolding around her.
“I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I'd seen out of the movies. I couldn't believe my eyes,” she said. “There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up [...] I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood.”
Edwards said while she and her fellow law enforcement officers are trained in crowd-control, they are not trained for combat.
“And that day, it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat, hours of dealing with things that were way beyond [what] any law enforcement officer has ever trained for,” she said. “I just remember that moment of stepping behind the line and just seeing the absolute war zone that the West front had become.”
Edwards suffered a traumatic brain injury after being knocked unconscious during an altercation with members of the far-right Proud Boys group, and has yet to return to the force because of her injuries.
But on Jan. 6, despite being injured – and after regaining consciousness – Edwards still attempted to stop rioters from entering the building.
“I was called a lot of things on January 6, 2021 and the days thereafter,” Edwards said in her opening remarks. “I was called Nancy Pelosi’s dog, called incompetent, called a hero and a villain. I was called a traitor to my country, my oath and my constitution.
“In actuality, I was none of those things,” she continued. “I was an American, standing face-to-face with other Americans, asking myself how many times, many, many times – how we had gotten here. I had been called names before, but never had my patriotism or duty been called into question.”
Vice Chair Cheney said that Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry is one of “multiple” Republican lawmakers who sought pardons from former President Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot.
“As you will see, Rep. Perry contacted the White House in the weeks after Jan. 6 to seek a presidential pardon,” she said, adding: “Multiple other Republican congressmen also sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election."
A spokesperson for Perry denied the allegations, saying that “laughable, ludicrous, and a thoroughly soulless lie.”
Cheney, who has faced backlash from her own party for her outspoken stance against former President Trump, had pointed words for her Congressional colleagues.
“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” she said. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Nick Quested, a British documentary filmmaker who was embedded with the Proud Boys on Jan. 6 and the night before, testified that he saw the far-right group’s leader, Enrique Tarrio, meet in a parking lot on Jan. 5 with Stewart Rhodes, the leader of another extremist group, the Oath Keepers. Quested was unable to hear what the two men were saying.
The next morning, Quested said he met up with the Proud Boys again at the National Mall. Instead of walking toward the Ellipse, where then-President Donald Trump was holding a rally, the contingent of “a couple of hundred Proud Boys” marched toward the Capitol around 10:30 a.m., before Trump had spoken, the filmmaker said.
“I was confused to a certain extent why we were walking away from the president's speech because that's what I felt we were there to cover,” Quested testified.
The Proud Boys then walked around the Capitol, at one point questioning the honor of Capitol Police officers who were putting on riot gear, Quested said.
“The atmosphere, it seemed to be much darker,” Quested told the panel.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he’s concerned that the Proud Boys’ walk around the Capitol “allowed them to see what defenses were in place and where our weaknesses might be.”
The Proud Boys launched their attack at the Capitol’s Peace Circle, which had one officer standing at the barricades when the group arrived, Quested said.
“For anyone who didn't understand how violent that event was, I saw it, I documented it, and I experienced it,” Quested said.
Thompson tried to connect dots to suggest the Proud Boys were working in coordination with Trump. He said it was clear the extremist group was not in Washington to listen to the president speak, but instead were determined to storm the Capitol. The timing of their assault began just before members of Congress convened to vote on certify Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election and just after Trump told the rally crowd to “fight like hell” before urging them to march toward the Capitol — and the Proud Boys, Thompson noted.
During a blistering opening statement condemning Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, Cheney previewed the upcoming public hearings, saying they will show who in the administration encouraged Trump to end the violence and which advisers egged him on.
Cheney said next Monday’s hearing will touch on Trump’s failed court battles attempting to prove that the election was stolen, adding that evidence will prove the former president repeatedly refused to listen to his campaign leadership, the White House staff, and even Justice Department officials that he lost the cases.
Future hearings will show how some of those top officials threatened to resign should Trump continue spreading his false claims, while others – including sitting members of Congress – have refused to cooperate with the House committee, choosing instead to remain loyal to the former president.
“In our fifth hearing, you will see evidence that President Trump corruptly pressured state legislators and election officials to change election results,” she said. “You will hear additional details about President Trump's call to Georgia officials, urging them to ‘find 11,780 votes,’ votes that did not exist, and his efforts to get states to resend certified electoral slates, without factual basis, and contrary to law.”
Other hearings will focus on the safety failures at the Capitol and why the government was not better prepared for the violent riot, though she stressed the Department of Justice investigation is still ongoing and said the committee still does not necessarily have all of the necessary information.
“As part of our investigation, we will present information about what the White House and other intelligence agencies knew and why the Capitol was not better prepared,” she said. “But we will not lose sight of the fact that the Capitol Police did not cause the crowd to attack. And we will not blame that violence, provoked by Donald Trump, on the officers who bravely defended all of us.
The final hearings, Cheney said, will offer first-person testimony of what was happening inside the White House while the violence unfolded in the U.S. Capitol.
“You will hear a moment-by-moment account of the hourslong attack from more than half a dozen White House staff, both live in the hearing room and via videotape testimony,” she said. “There's no doubt that President Trump was well aware of the violence as it developed.
“Finally, I ask all of our fellow Americans as you watch our hearings over the coming weeks, please remember what's at stake for the men and women who have fought and died so that we can live under the rule of law, not the rule of men,” Cheney concluded.