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Congress kicks off select committee probe of Jan. 6 insurrection

 Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone walked toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and quickly became engulfed by supporters of former President Donald Trump with bloody ambition to overturn the U.S. election.

He was taunted viciously and Tased repeatedly by the mob, then suffered a heart attack as hundreds of fellow officers defended the U.S. Capitol and the lawmakers, journalists and staff inside. As insurrectionists attempted — repeatedly — to turn his personal firearm against him, he called out to the crowd, “I have kids,” in a desperate plea for his life.

On Tuesday, testifying before the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Fanone was one of four police officers who told lawmakers under oath that, despite years of police training, they could have never prepared for what they saw at what was supposed to be the ceremony certifying Trump’s loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

The officers, to a man, said they had learned how to cope with the risk of putting their lives in danger and other perilous scenarios. This is part and parcel of their jobs. 

Fanone, specifically, told lawmakers he knew how to react to “otherwise law-abiding citizens” even when they were shooting at him. 

Jan. 6 was undeniably different. 

“But nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so, betray their oath of office. Those very members who’s lives, offices, staff members I was fighting so desperately to defend,” Fanone said. 

His voice booming through the small chamber inside of the Cannon building Tuesday, the 20-year veteran law enforcement officer slammed his fist down on the table. 

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“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” he said. 

A little more than six months after the siege, tensions are undeniably high as lawmakers begin to investigate the assault and its root causes.

The committee’s very formation was bitterly fought and punctuated by schisms including the ousting of Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her GOP leadership role because she openly supports the premise that Trump, on the morning of January 6, incited throngs of his supporters to storm the Capitol and overturn Joe Biden’s rightful election to the White House.

At the top of Tuesday’s hearing Cheney made her position crystal clear: “We must know what happened at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day at the White House, every phone call, every meeting, every conversation leading up and during the attack."

At a news conference hours before Tuesday’s hearing, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated the position of many fellow Republicans that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is to blame for failing to better prepare officers’ fortifications or defenses. 

“But unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi will only pick people onto the committee that will ask the questions she wants asked,” said McCarthy, who was joined at the conference by several members of Republican leadership including New York Representative Elise Stafanik — who replaced Cheney as chair of the House GOP— and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.

“That becomes a failed committee and a failed report, a sham that no one can believe,” McCarthy continued.

In contrast to this position, the legislation initially proposed for a nonpartisan commission investigating the assault gave Republicans the opportunity to appoint members of their choosing under. The bid failed in the Senate, however, despite its inclusion of co-equal Republican and Democrat representation and subpoena powers granted under compromise or vote. 

It was still rejected by most Republican senators who decried it as a poorly veiled attempt by Democrats to harass the twice-impeached but never-convicted Trump.

It was not until the House passed a bill of its own this May — with just 35 Republicans supporting it — that a select committee, not a full-bore commission, was narrowly approved. The select committee gives Democrats a slight edge through solitary subpoena power and the final say in who members may call to appear for testimony.

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Congressman Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee, recalled in an interview Tuesday that some of McCarthy’s committee picks were the very same legislators who told Americans publicly in the aftermath and despite an abundance of video footage, not to believe their own “lying eyes.” 

“All I can say is there was a chance for them to establish a bipartisan commission and it was McCarthy who turned it down,” Meeks said. “If anyone is trying to play politics with this, it’s Mr. McCarthy.” 

In addition to Metropolitan Police Officers Fanone and Daniel Hodges, U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonnell and U.S. Capitol Police Private First Class Harry Dunn also testified.

For Hodges, January 6 was a “battle of inches.” Rioters called Hodges’ mother a whore before the attack went from “peaceful assembly to terrorism,” he said.

The memories of the day flowed from Hodges, including his recollection of a menacing commotion he witnessed as the minutes that morning ticked toward what would be his near-death experience later.

He saw a Black man, he recalled Tuesday, fleeing from a white man wearing a Trump face mask. Hodges and other officers broke them up before descending on the increasingly overrun Capitol. 

Flags displaying, ‘Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president,’ and other symbols poked above the crowd. Seared into his memory was the image of a ‘Thin Blue Line’ pro-police flag waving above the sea of bodies. 

This was to his “perpetual confusion,” he testified, as he witnessed the mob ignore shouted orders and then beat and mace officers. 

"There will be no healing, there will be no moving on until there is accountability," Officer Hodges tells Kinzinger.

For Dunn, a Black man, he told lawmakers that never in his 13 years of police work had he seen so many people assaulting officers like he had on Jan. 6. The officer described a “sea of people engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting,” with insurrectionists covering the Capitol lawn. He saw Confederate flags, Trump flags and the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flags waving. 

Taking a moment to exhale deeply, Dunn testified Tuesday that he and other officers of color endured not just incessant physical attacks but a torrent of racial slurs in the confrontation with insurrectionists, extremists and supporters of the former president.

Never before had he or fellow officers of color experienced such degradation on duty, he told the committee. 

“No one, no one has called me a nigger while I was in uniform defending the U.S. Capitol,” Dunn said. 

Dunn was in shock and, as he ordered rioters to leave, the response from the crowd was the same: “President Trump invited us here. We’re here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.” 

“I’m a law enforcement officer and I do my best to keep politics out of my job but in this circumstance, I responded, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?” Dunn said.

Exposing the sweeping viciousness of a day that some lawmakers have painted as a “tourist visit,” Dunn was visibly pained as he reminded the committee of what a fellow officer told him after being confronted by insurrectionists. 

“Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of nigger you are,” Dunn said to an otherwise silent hearing room. 

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Gonnell testified it was Trump’s responsibility for the “monstrosity” of Jan. 6. The insurrectionists police encountered told them, explicitly, that the former president sent them to disrupt the day, he said. 

“We lost some officers that day, some really good officers, but we held the line because the alternative would have been a disaster,” Gonnell said. “We are not asking for medals or recognition. We want justice and accountability.”  

With seven dead, 140 police officers injured and a peaceful transfer of power wildly disrupted after the 2020 election, the probe’s purpose under leadership of committee chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, is to explore how the attack unfolded, who organized and who funded elements of the siege. 

Congress has met a handful of times since January 6 to explore the intelligence failures leading up to the assault and has received testimony from U.S. intelligence officials as well as officials from the U.S. Capitol Police on why the complex was left glaringly vulnerable despite an abundance of warning signs.

Those hearings have generated more questions than answers however, with FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials acknowledging they had difficulty “discerning constitutionally protected free speech versus actionable credible threats of violence” that littered internet forums in the run up to Jan. 6.

Hodges, however, zeroed in on a key issue that has long caused consternation and debate about the events of Jan. 6 in Congress: How to define, legally, the actions of those who stormed the Capitol. 

“Some call rioters tourists… why do you call the attackers terrorists?” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said. 

Admitting he could see why people might take issue, Hodges read from the U.S. code defining domestic terrorism which cites a terrorist as someone whose intent is to effect the conduct of a government. 

Where the committee goes from here is up to lawmakers. But the pleas from those who were nearly killed on Jan. 6 was almost identical.  

"I need you to address whether anyone in power had anything to do with this and whether anyone in power aided or abetted or tried to downplay or prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack,” Hodges said.

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Tyler Merbler/CC BY 2.0

A scene from the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol that left seven dead, 140 police officers injured and a peaceful transfer of power wildly disrupted after the 2020 election.

Video evidence shown in the Capitol insurrection criminal cases

ProPublica and a coalition of 15 other news organizations including The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CBS and NBC have been suing for access to the video exhibits shown in the criminal cases against the accused Jan. 6 rioters. The coalition has been arguing for access before a series of federal judges in the District of Columbia, and the Department of Justice has been sending these videos as the applications are won.