The House committee that has spent a year investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol aired video clips of former president Donald Trump’s daughter, son-in-law and closest aides Thursday night as it began making its case that the assault was the violent culmination of an attempted coup.
After conducting 1,000 interviews and gathering 140,000 documents over the course of the year, the committee launched its presentation with a blunt reminder of the vicious violence unleashed by the mob that day. Setting the tone was a chilling compilation of never-before-seen video of a mob surging into the building, including new security footage of aides scattering in fear inside the office of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a Trump ally.
That was followed by two witnesses who testified live to their harrowing experiences at the Capitol that day. Caroline Edwards, a U.S. Capitol Police officer seriously injured as pro-Trump rioters forced their way into the building, described the scene as “carnage.” Nick Quested, a British filmmaker who embedded with and documented the activities of an extremist group, the Proud Boys, said he watched “the crowd turn from protesters to rioters to insurrectionists.”
“The violence was no accident,” Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said as he opened the hearing. “It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”
In a statement punctuated by clips from testimony gathered so far by the committee — including from close Trump aides and his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) promised that the committee would explain in the coming weeks Trump’s multi-prong strategy to subvert democracy and remain in power despite losing the election.
According to snippets of testimony played by Cheney, Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, told Trump his claims were “complete nonsense.” Ivanka Trump was persuaded by the assurance. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying,” she told the committee.
Even so, Cheney said Trump tried to use the resources of his office, including the Justice Department, to overturn the vote, then pressured Vice President Mike Pence to toss out electoral college votes for Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021. Once violence erupted, she said Trump not only failed to act to quell it — but instead cheered on the mob.
“Aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,’ ” Cheney said. “Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.' ”
Cheney, whose decision to join Democrats on the investigative panel has earned her a serious primary challenge and Trump’s enmity, offered stern words to her fellow Republicans who have dismissed the committee’s work: “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.”
The evening’s most dramatic moments belonged to Edwards, a police officer who has not before told her story in public. She described in vivid detail confronting extremists at a bicycle rack that had been blocking a wide sidewalk leading to the Capitol. The crowd threw her to the ground, knocking her unconscious. She sustained a traumatic brain injury during the attack and is believed to be the first officer who was injured during the insurrection.
After she came to, she recalled seeing another officer holding his head in his hands: Brian D. Sicknick. He was, she said, “as pale as this piece of paper,” holding up a blank sheet that had been sitting on a table in front of her. Sicknick was taken to the hospital and later died; a medical examiner ruled he died of natural causes after suffering strokes but that the events of that day contributed to his condition.
It was “just a war scene,” she said, with injured officers surrounding her. “They were bleeding, they were throwing up, I was slipping in people’s blood,” she said. “It was carnage, it was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think as a police officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.”
At the hearing’s conclusion, Edwards shared an extended embrace with Sicknick’s partner, Sandra Garza, who had been seated in the front row in the committee room.
In all, 140 police officers were assaulted that day. Five people died in the Jan. 6 attack or in the immediate aftermath.
She said that on Jan. 6 and in the days after, she was called “a traitor to my country, my oath and my Constitution.”
“In actuality, I was none of those things,” she said. “I was an American standing face to face with other Americans asking myself many times, many, many times how we had gotten here.”
Republicans sought this week to cast the committee as partisan and illegitimate. Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the Republican conference chair, argued on Wednesday that the hearings are designed to distract voters from other issues such as inflation and crime, and called them “a smear campaign” against Trump. As the hearing unfolded, the Twitter account for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted images of violence during Black Lives Matters protests in 2020. “All. Old. News,” the Republicans tweeted.
In a Thursday statement, Trump went further, once again saying falsely that the election was “rigged” but also seemingly embracing the events of the violent day. “January 6th was not simply a protest, it represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again,” he wrote.
Some Trump aides have cooperated with the committee’s investigation, but others refused — as did some Republican House members, including McCarthy. Two former aides — Peter Navarro and Stephen K. Bannon — have been charged with criminal contempt by the Justice Department for their refusals to cooperate despite receiving subpoenas.
While the nine-member committee is bipartisan, the panel’s two Republicans are both fierce Trump critics. McCarthy (Calif.) pulled his handpicked members from the panel last year after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vetoed two of his picks.
The committee hoped to use the tightly edited, previously unseen video and audio clips to provide a compelling and newsy account of the day and remind Americans of the danger posed to democracy by the Trump-supporting mob.
The committee utilized video shot by Quested and his crew, who spent Jan. 6 and the months leading up to the assault with leaders of the Proud Boys, which Canada has designated as a terrorist group. The footage has provided crucial evidence to the committee’s investigation and the Justice Department’s criminal probe.
It included a meeting, captured on camera by Quested, that occurred between Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, on Jan. 5 in an underground parking garage in downtown Washington. The recording “at one point, picked up audio of a person referencing the Capitol,” according to a court filing. Tarrio was indicted on a federal charge of seditious conspiracy, along with four top lieutenants, on Monday.
The goal was to show that the extremist groups were not acting spontaneously but instead executing an organized and preplanned strategy when they surged up the stairs of the Capitol building and crashed through doors and windows, disrupting Congress’s usually routine ceremony to count the votes of the electoral college and declare a new president.
The committee likewise sought to demonstrate that the extremist groups were inspired by Trump’s rhetoric and tweets, as well as by the sprawling efforts of the former president and his close allies to overturn the election, including an unprecedented effort to pressure Pence, presiding over the session, to toss out electoral college votes for Biden.
A CNN poll in February found that 65 percent of Americans characterized the Jan. 6 attack as either a “crisis” or a “major problem” for the country. But a Washington Post-ABC poll in May found more split opinion about the work of the House committee, with 40 percent of Americans reporting the panel is conducting a “fair and impartial” investigation of the events surrounding the attack and 40 percent say the committee is not.
More than 800 people have been charged with criminal activity in connection with Jan. 6, according to the Justice Department, including over 250 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. As the committee prepared to meet Thursday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, Ryan D. Kelley, on misdemeanor charges related to his participation in the Jan. 6 riot, a reminder that numerous GOP candidates for office participated in protests in Washington on Jan. 6 and even more harbor Trump’s myth that the election was stolen.
The committee’s investigation is ongoing as well, a committee aide told reporters. Hearings are also scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. A hearing next week is scheduled to focus on Trump’s pressure campaign to persuade Pence to halt or delay the electoral certification of Biden’s win.
Greg Jacob, Pence’s then-chief counsel, argued with Trump attorney John Eastman, who had produced a legal analysis designed to persuade Pence to use his position overseeing the congressional count to block Trump’s defeat.
A federal judge this week ordered Eastman to share more emails and documents with the Jan. 6 committee — including an email that U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ruled showed evidence that Trump aides had by early December 2020 developed a political strategy to use the ceremonial counting of the electoral college votes on Jan. 6 to overturn the election. Carter said that plan might constitute a crime.
Other hearings are expected to focus on how Trump used the vast levers of presidential power to subvert the election, including a failed plan to oust the then-attorney general, who had said there were no signs of fraud in the 2020 election, and replace him with an ally who would say the opposite. The committee is also expected to focus attention on security lapses that left the U.S. Capitol Police outnumbered and out-equipped by the surging mobs.
Closing her remarks, Cheney referenced a painting that hangs in the Capitol Rotunda, depicting George Washington voluntarily relinquishing power by resigning his commission in the Continental Army, a sign of his desire to peacefully transfer power.
“The sacred obligation to defend this peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American president,” she said. “Except one.”
Isaac Stanley-Becker, Rachel Weiner, Mariana Alfaro, Matthew Brown and Amy Gardner contributed to this report.