In the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, Kinzinger made very clear why his participation posed such a significant risk to his party’s rhetoric about the attack and the investigation. In an emotional introductory statement, Kinzinger rebutted a number of the most common redirections offered by members of his party about the events of that day. This wasn’t just the Jan. 6 committee undercutting attempts to deflect and whatabout the attack. This was a Republican on the committee calling it out.
“A democracy is not defined by our bad days,” Kinzinger said, his voice breaking. “We’re defined by how we come back from bad, bad days. How we take accountability for that. And for all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple. It’s to find the truth and it’s to ensure accountability.”
“Like most Americans, I’m frustrated that six months after a deadly insurrection breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television, we still don’t know exactly what happened,” he continued. “Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and the employees in the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth, and to those generations before us who went to war to defend self-governance.”
Kinzinger first pointed to the argument that the investigation into Jan. 6 should be counterweighed with or include investigations into violence that spun out of racial justice protests last summer, an argument that was made by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) among others. Kinzinger noted, as a member of the Air National Guard, he was called up in response to the violence.
“Not once did I ever feel that the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on January 6,” Kinzinger said of that response. “There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law. Between a crime — even grave crimes — and a coup.”
He then challenged the argument that an investigation into Jan. 6 was looking backward at something that had already been sufficiently considered, that it was time to move on. (When Cheney was ousted from her position in the leadership of the Republican House caucus, one of the implicit charges often made against her leadership was her insistence on focusing on the past.) The committee was hearing testimony from four officers attacked during the riot and Kinzinger posed the question to them: Did it seem like the time had come to move on?
“There can be no moving on without accountability,” D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges said. “There can be no healing until we make sure this can’t happen again.”
Kinzinger then moved on to his next point.
“There’s been this idea that this was not an armed insurrection,” he said, “as if somehow that is justification for what happened.” This claim, too, has been common, including from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) So Kinzinger posed the question to the officers: Were the rioters armed?
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell delineated some of the weapons he saw, including “a baseball bat, a hockey stick, rebar, a flagpole … pepper spray, bear spray.” In his testimony, Hodges had pointed out that there would have been no way to know how many members of the crowd had firearms. That was reinforced by the other officers offering testimony when prompted by Kinzinger. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn described an interaction with a member of the mob who he believed to be a law enforcement officer and seeing what appeared to be a firearm on his hip. At least two people who had firearms at the scene that day have been arrested.
Kinzinger also attacked the efforts to minimize what had happened that day — like former president Donald Trump’s claim that the crowd was offering the police “hugs and kisses” — and noted other efforts to deflect blame away from Trump’s supporters and onto antifa or, thanks to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, the FBI. In his opening remarks, he referred specifically to Trump’s claims, though without mentioning Trump by name.
“It’s time to stop the outrage and the conspiracies that fuel the violence and division in this country,” Kinzinger said, “and, most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it.”
The Republican’s last question to the officers centered on their approach to the riot. Did they then or, for those who’d served in the military, during their service ever “change how you defended the person to your left or right … based on their political affiliation?” The officers said that they hadn’t.
“I want to say that is the mission of this committee,” Kinzinger said. “We may have our deep differences on other policy issues, but we are all Americans today.”
It’s unlikely that the leaders of Kinzinger’s party caucus take the same view of his efforts.