Select committee holds first January 6 hearing with officers on the front lines

The testimony kicks off the committee's investigation into the Jan. 6 attack
Originally Published: 27 JUL 21 05:17 ET

(CNN) — In its opening act, the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol holds its first high-profile hearing Tuesday with testimony from four officers who will give firsthand accounts of the horrors they witnessed and endured as rioters stormed the building.

The officers are expected to recount the harrowing attacks they faced on January 6, including being beaten with a flagpole, getting crushed in a doorway, being the target of racial slurs and facing rioters who tased them. The committee also is expected to show never-before-seen videos depicting the violence from that day, just as House impeachment managers did during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The emotional testimony kicks off the committee’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the January 6 attack as Democratic leaders look to set the tone for a panel that congressional Republicans have dismissed as a political sideshow created merely to discredit the legacy of the former President.

The goal Tuesday, according to select committee member Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, is to portray what it was like “to be on the front lines for the brave police officers” and to push back on efforts to whitewash the events of that day.

“I’m hoping that the hearing will give the American people an even more vivid sense of what went on that day, the horror of that day, how these brave police officers saved so many lives,” Schiff told CNN.

But the hearing will be just the beginning. In the weeks ahead, the panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans, all appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will contend with how they can make the biggest impact, how to choose which documents to seek and, perhaps most importantly, to decide whether they will try to force Trump — as well as some of their Republican colleagues who spoke to him that day — to testify.

The committee members are looking to take the accounts from the four officers — DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell — as a jumping-off point for embarking on a probe that could lead to seeking testimony and documents from the former President, his aides and even Republican members of Congress.

Democrats had pushed for an independent commission to get to the bottom of how pro-Trump supporters breached the Capitol in a deadly riot, attacked police officers and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s November election win. After Senate Republicans blocked the commission, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved forward with a select committee.

Pelosi has sought for the select committee to be able to provide an exhaustive accounting of the events surrounding the attack, the former President’s role, how extremist groups were able to organize and how security failures resulted in the deadly clash. But the California Democrat has also taken steps that have infuriated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, including shutting down two of his picks for the select committee because of their past statements and actions that bolstered Trump’s false narrative about the election being stolen.

Pelosi named GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming to the select committee, and after she rejected Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana, McCarthy pulled the rest of the Republicans from the committee. Pelosi responded by adding Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, to the panel, in an effort to give it bipartisan credibility even without McCarthy’s participation.

In a show of the importance of the Republicans serving on the panel at Pelosi’s request, Cheney will give an opening statement after the select committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Cheney and Kinzinger have faced sharp blowback for joining Pelosi’s committee, with conservatives arguing that they should be removed from their other committee slots. The two members have said those threats won’t deter them.

“If the conference decided or if Kevin decides they want to punish Liz Cheney and I for getting to the bottom and telling the truth, I think that probably says more about them than it does for us,” Kinzinger said Monday.

Congressional Republicans are planning their own programming to rebut the select committee, with McCarthy and the five members who the California Republican had planned to appoint to the committee holding a news conference Tuesday morning before the hearing. While the news conference will give them a venue to air their grievances, the Republicans won’t be in the hearing room as a voice to defend Trump from the attacks he’s likely to face from Democrats.

Instead, the two Republican voices on the select committee are the most vocal Trump critics in the House GOP conference.

Tuesday’s hearing, however, is likely to focus more on the visceral danger the officers faced January 6 on the front lines at the Capitol.

Body-camera footage shows how Fanone was pulled into the crowd and tased repeatedly with his own stun gun. Gonell was beaten with a flagpole and his hand was sliced open. Dunn has spoken out about the racist attacks he and other Black officers faced that day. And Hodges was the officer in one of the most harrowing and well-known scenes from the riots, when he was writhing and screaming in pain while crushed in a doorway by a crowd of rioters.

“I want people to understand the significance of January 6. I want people to understand that, you know, thousands of rioters came to the Capitol hell-bent on violence and destruction and murder,” Fanone previously told CNN.

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