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Friday, June 10, 2022

‘Trump Was at the Center’: Jan. 6 Hearing Lays Out Case in Vivid Detail

‘Trump Was at the Center’: Jan. 6 Hearing Lays Out Case in Vivid Detail

Footage of the attack on the Capitol was shown on a television screen inside the hearing room on Thursday.
Kenny Holston for The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol opened a landmark set of hearings on Thursday by showing video of aide after aide to former President Donald J. Trump testifying that his claims of a stolen election were false, as the panel laid out in meticulous detail the extent of the former president’s efforts to keep himself in office.

Over about two hours, the panel offered new information about what it characterized as an attempted coup orchestrated by Mr. Trump that culminated in the deadly assault on the Capitol. The panel’s leaders revealed that investigators heard testimony that Mr. Trump endorsed the hanging of his own vice president as a mob of his supporters descended on Congress. They also said they had evidence that members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

The session kicked off an ambitious effort by the nine-member committee, which was formed after Republicans blocked the creation of a nonpartisan commission, to lay out the full story of a remarkable assault on U.S. democracy, orchestrated by a sitting president, that led to a deadly riot, an impeachment and a crisis of confidence in the political system.

“Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee. “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.”

The prime-time hearing featured dramatic video of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, leading the assault on the Capitol, and the emotional testimony of a Capitol Police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury at the hands of the mob.

“What I saw was a war scene,” the officer, Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage, testified. “I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up.”

She added: “I was slipping on people’s blood. It was carnage. It was chaos.”

Officer Caroline Edwards of the U.S. Capitol Police is believed to be the first officer injured in the attack. “I was slipping on people’s blood,” she testified. “It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Officer Edwards’s appearance reflected the potency of the committee’s seamless two-hour presentation — including never-before-seen video — in bringing home the violence of that day all over again.

The committee is publicly telling the story of how a sitting president undertook unprecedented efforts to overturn a democratic election, testing the guardrails of American democracy at every turn. Mr. Trump and his allies challenged President Biden’s victory in the courts, at state houses and, finally, in the streets.

“You will see that Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had in fact lost the election,” said Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman and one of two Republicans on the panel. “But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election.”

Lawmakers contrasted Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat with every president who came before him. At one point, Mr. Thompson displayed a handwritten note from President Abraham Lincoln in which he said he would be duty-bound to cooperate with the newly elected president should he lose.

Using previously unreleased video of testimony from former Trump aides and even his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the panel left little doubt about the truth of the former president’s actions. In doing so, its leaders said they hoped to force the nation to grapple with a dark chapter in its history.

“Our democracy remains in danger,” Mr. Thompson said. “Jan. 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk. The world is watching what we do here.”

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, the chairman of the committee, and Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman, led the hearing.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

The opening night contained several revelations, perhaps the most damning of which came from Ms. Cheney. She said the committee had received testimony that when Mr. Trump learned of the mob’s threats to hang Vice President Mike Pence, he said, “Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” and added that Mr. Pence “deserves it.”

The committee also revealed that several Republican congressmen, including Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, now the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, asked for a presidential pardon after Jan. 6.

The hearings are unfolding five months before midterm elections in which the Democrats’ majority is at stake, at a time when they are eager to draw a sharp contrast between themselves and the Republicans who enabled and embraced Mr. Trump, including the members of Congress who abetted his efforts to invalidate the election results.

Reporters preparing to go on television before the hearing, which was scheduled for prime time.
Shuran Huang for The New York Times

Members of the panel see themselves as carrying out a critical function, much as fact-finding committees did in investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Watergate scandal in 1973 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

At a time of intense political polarization, members of the panel took pains to back up their assertions with clear evidence, turning frequently to videotaped testimony to drive home their points. When Mr. Thompson outlined how Mr. Trump had been told repeatedly that there was no election fraud, he added, “Don’t believe me?”

Then he paused for a video showing former Attorney General William P. Barr testifying that he knew the president’s claims were false.

“I told the president it was bullshit,” Mr. Barr is heard telling the committee’s investigators. “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

The committee also played a series of video testimony. Ms. Trump conceded that Mr. Barr’s assertions affected her view. A Trump campaign adviser, Jason Miller, testified that a data specialist had showed him that the numbers were not there for Mr. Trump to win. Alex Cannon, a campaign lawyer, told the panel that he had relayed to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, in November 2020 that he saw no evidence of irregularities sufficient to change the election result, prompting Mr. Meadows to reply, “So, there’s no there there.”

Later, the panel played a video montage of rioters storming the seat of American government.

Serena Liebengood, whose husband, Officer Howard Liebengood, died by suicide after the attack, crying during the hearing.
Kenny Holston for The New York Times
Sandra Garza’s partner, Officer Brian Sicknick, died after protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Members of the panel promised to reveal evidence in the days to come that would fundamentally change the public’s understanding of the Jan. 6 attack and bring into clearer focus exactly who is to blame.

“It’ll change history,” predicted Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the other Republican on the committee.

Mr. Thompson said the next session, scheduled for Monday, would detail how Mr. Trump “lit the fuse” for the riot with his lie of a stolen election.

Other hearings are expected to focus on Mr. Trump’s attempts to misuse the Justice Department to help him cling to power; his pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to throw out legitimate electoral votes for Mr. Biden; the way the mob was assembled and how it descended on Washington on Jan. 6, 2021; and the fact that Mr. Trump did nothing to stop the violence for more than three hours while the assault was underway.

The committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and accumulated more than 140,000 documents. It has a staff of about 45 employees, including more than a dozen former federal prosecutors and two former U.S. attorneys, and has spent millions on its work.

Many Republicans in Congress, whose leaders initially supported the idea of an independent commission, have spent the months since the assault trying to rewrite its history and downplay its severity.

They ramped up their fight Thursday morning, when the party’s House leaders took turns at a news conference on Capitol Hill bashing the panel’s work as “illegitimate” and a “sham.”

“Is Nancy Pelosi going to hold a prime-time hearing on inflation?” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican. “I’d sure like to see that. I think a lot of Americans would. Is Nancy Pelosi going to hold a prime-time hearing on lowering gas prices?”

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California and other Republican leaders held a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday to attack the committee’s work.
Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Four officers who suffered injuries defending the Capitol were on hand Thursday night. One, Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, wore a shirt with the definition of the word “insurrection” printed on it. Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after fighting off the mob, attended as did Mr. Sicknick’s partner, Sandra Garza.

Serena Liebengood, the wife of Howard Liebengood, a Capitol Police officer who died by suicide after the attack, was seated next to Ms. Garza. They both watched the hearing in tears.

The hearing also featured the testimony of a documentary filmmaker, Nick Quested, who was embedded with the right-wing group the Proud Boys during the attack. Several members of the Proud Boys have been charged with conspiracy and sedition.

Mr. Quested, who has worked in the war zones of Afghanistan and elsewhere, spent a good deal of the postelection period filming the Proud Boys, including the group’s former chairman, Enrique Tarrio, who has been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Capitol riot. Mr. Quested accompanied the Proud Boys to pro-Trump rallies in Washington in November and December 2020 and was on the ground with members of the group on Jan. 6, when several played a crucial role in breaching the Capitol.

The committee concluded the evening with a video compilation of rioters attributing their actions to the lies and the urging of Mr. Trump.

“We were invited by the president of the United States,” one of them said.

Alan Feuer and Katie Benner contributed reporting.“

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