WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol held its first in a series of hearings Thursday night. During the primetime hearing, Americans watched footage of violent rioters infiltrating the country’s symbol of democracy and heard testimony from a Capitol Police officer knocked unconscious and a filmmaker documenting the group who first breached Capitol security that day.
The televised hearings are intended to detail the committee’s initial findings of the evidence the panel has gathered over its 11-month investigation into the insurrection.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) opened the hearing with remarks, saying former President Trump wanted to stop the transfer of presidential power.
“American people voted him [Trump] out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud,” Rep. Thompson said.
The committee showed clips of Trump’s campaign advisers testifying they made the president aware he lost the election legitimately.
Thompson showed a portion of an interview with Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr.
Barr said he told former President Trump he did not agree with saying the election was stolen, calling the concept “bullsh*t.”
“I had three discussions with the president that I can recall. One was on November 23rd. One was on December 1st. One was on December 14th. I’ve been through the sort of give and take of those discussions and in that context I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullsh*t,” Barr said. “I didn’t want to be apart of it and that’s one of the reasons that went into me deciding to leave when I did. I observed, I think it was on December 1st, that you can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view unsupported by specific evidence that there was fraud in the election.”
Barr says he repeatedly told Trump he did not see evidence of fraud that would have impacted the outcome of the election.
The hearing showed a clip from an interview with Ivanka Trump, commenting on Bill Barr saying he did not see evidence of fraud.
“It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr. So I accepted what he was saying,” Ivanka Trump said in the clip.
In her opening remarks, Rep. Liz Cheney said the hearings will feature testimony from more than half a dozen former White House staffers. She said some reported Trump was “really angry” at advisors urging him to take action during the insurrection and that he refused for hours to tell the mob to stand down.
Aware of the rioters’ chants to hang Mike Pence, Cheney said the president responded with this sentiment: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it.”
According to Cheney, the fourth hearing in the series will focus on Pence. Another topic will be security at the Capitol.
During part of an interview played at the hearing, Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said then-Vice President Pence gave “very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders” to get law enforcement assets to the officers at the riot.
“He was very animated, very direct, very firm,” Milley said of Pence.
Milley said he recalled then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows calling him to say, “We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions.”
Rep. Cheney believes there is no room for debate when it comes to the Capitol riots.
“Those who invaded our capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them: That the election was stolen and that he was the rightful president. President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said.
She also shared a message on the matter for fellow Republican lawmakers: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Former President Trump responded to the hearings with a post on truthsocial: “So the Unselect Committee of political HACKS refuses to play any of the many positive witnesses and statements, refuses to talk of the Election Fraud and Irregularities that took place on a massive scale, and decided to use a documentary maker from Fake News ABC to spin only negative footage. Our Country is in such trouble!”
Before taking a recess, the committee presented a video montage showing the violence during the Capitol riots coupled with the sound of officers calling for backup. The end of the chaotic video was paired with audio of Donald Trump from a Fox News interview on July 11, 2021, where the former president said: “They were peaceful people. These were great people. The crowd was unbelievable, and I mentioned the word love. The love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
During the recess, NewsNation senior contributor George Will said the reason the committee was created is not to create a case against Trump.
“It is not the purpose of this committee or the competence of this committee to create a criminal case against Donald Trump,” Will commented.
Officer Caroline Edwards and British filmmaker Nick Quested testified before the committee. Both were on Capitol grounds during the first breach of security on Jan. 6. by the Proud Boys, a group that promotes white supremacy.
Officer Edwards has been with Capitol Police since 2017. On Jan. 6, she served as the first line of defense for the Capitol.
Edwards described the Capitol on Jan. 6 as an “absolute warzone.” She told the committee she was pushed back and blacked out as the back of her head clipped the concrete steps behind her. When she returned to consciousness, she ran to try to help other officers before they were overpowered by rioters. She said she was teargassed and called a traitor to her country, a villian and other names.
“In actuality, I was none of those things. I was an American, standing face to face with other Americans, asking myself many, many times how we had gotten here. I had been called names before but never had my patriotism or duty been called into question,” Edwards said.
Adding: “They dared to question my honor. They dared to question my loyalty. They dared to question my duty. I am a proud American and I will proudly sacrifice everything to make sure that the America my grandfather defended is here for many years to come.”
The riot left more than 100 police officers hurt. At least nine people there died during and after the riot, including a woman fatally shot by police.
Quested said he had been working on a documentary highlighting the division in America. With his work, he filmed the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two extremist groups. He said the day prior to insurrection he filmed the leader of the Proud Boys meeting with a member of the Oath Keepers, both groups that broke into the Capitol the following day.
“I documented the crowd turned from protesters to rioters to insurrectionists. I was surprised at the size of the group, the anger and the profanity. For anyone who didn’t understand how violent that event was, I saw it, I documented it, and I experienced it. I heard incredibly aggressive chanting and I subsequently shared that footage with the authorities,” Quested said.
The committee then pointed to testimony from Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino who said membership increased “exponentially” after Trump commented, “Proud Boys, stand back and standby” during a presidential debate.
Near the end of the first hearing, the committee played video clips of different rioters who claim Trump asked them or called them to be at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“You know Trump has only asked me for two things. He asked me for my vote and he asked me to come on Jan. 6th.” Robert Schornack, who was sentenced to 36 months probation said in video testimony.
More than 800 people have been arrested and charged in connection to the Jan. 6 riots by the Justice Department.
The first hearing set a somber tone for the rest of the hearings. Speaking to NewsNation’s Kellie Meyer, Rep. Ann Kuster called the hearing “triggering” for those who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“We knew we could have been killed that day. Ever since that day I’ve been dealing with post traumatic stress,” Rep. Kuster said.
The Jan. 6 committee, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has sorted through information in different hearing topics like domestic extremism, security failures, and what former President Trump was doing during the insurrection. They hope to drive home the violence on that day in 2021, as some have tried downplaying the riot.
The panel’s investigation has also focused on areas, including efforts by Trump and his allies to cast doubt on the election and halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory; the financing and organizing of rallies in Washington that took place before the attack; security failures by Capitol Police and federal agencies; and the actions of the rioters themselves.
Unlike other committee hearings, the first hearing was a mixture of traditional testimony and a multimedia presentation. More than 1,000 people have been interviewed by the panel with only selected snippets being revealed to the public so far.
Meanwhile, Republicans have pushed back on the hearings — some panning them as political theater.
“The American people see it for what it is and they understand the real issues that are impacting them every single day,” Rep. Jim Jordan said.
Rep. Jordan added the Democrats’ goal is “to end the Electoral College and their goal is to stop President Trump from running in 2024, plain and simple.”
Some have also called the committee partisan and argue that Democrats are focused on the wrong priorities.
“They are scrambling to change the headlines, praying that the nation will focus on their partisan witch hunt instead of our pocketbooks,” House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York told reporters Wednesday.
Several Jan. 6 committee members of the committee have promised new and explosive information to arise from the public hearings, but it remains unclear what that will entail.
The hearings are expected to be exhaustive but not the final word from the committee. It plans to release subsequent reports on its findings, including recommendations on legislative reforms, ahead of the midterm elections.
The second hearing in the series is scheduled for June 13 at 10 a.m.