A widely anticipated hearing Thursday by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol alleged two groups supporting then-President Donald Trump planned the riot to stop the transfer of presidential power — while Trump tacitly endorsed the insurrection and was indifferent to calls to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Over roughly two hours before a prime-time television audience, leaders of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol focused on the role of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Both are far-right groups with histories of violence and violent rhetoric that supported Trump.
The top two members on the panel, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also zeroed in on Trump and congressional Republicans, some of whom later asked for presidential pardons for their roles in the attack, Cheney said.
Cheney, one of two Republicans on the nine-member committee, lost her position in House Republican leadership over her criticism of Trump.
“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” Cheney said in an opening statement. “Your dishonor will remain.”
Thompson in his opening remarks emphasized Trump was at the center of it all, after his attempts to overturn the election results in the courts failed.
“But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election… aimed at throwing out the votes of millions of Americans — your votes — your voice in our democracy — and replacing the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended,” said Thompson.
“Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy.
“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,” Thompson said.
The hearing is the first in a series throughout June, as the committee lays out its evidence about the attack.
Proud Boys and Oath Keepers
Multiple members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their roles in breaking into the Capitol.
Thursday, the panel presented details of the groups’ planning and involvement, which they said was crucial for the attack to take place.
“The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous riot,” Cheney said.
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, and Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, met in a Washington parking garage the night before the Capitol attack, according to footage captured by documentarian Nick Quested, a hearing witness.
Quested also had video of Tarrio saying the two groups were “fighting the same fight.”
On the morning of Jan. 6, Quested said he was surprised to see Proud Boys going to the Capitol instead of Trump’s speech from the Ellipse, near the White House.
The committee showed video of a group of Proud Boys initiating a breach of a line of bike racks outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Proud Boys were among those fighting the U.S. Capitol Police officers on the west side of the Capitol. One officer, Caroline Edwards, testified to the committee Thursday that Proud Boys Joseph Biggs and Ryan Samsel ripped barricades down.
Edwards was trying to hold barricades in place, a struggle during which she was pushed backwards and fell, losing consciousness.
Later, a Proud Boys member broke a window that allowed rioters to enter the Capitol, according to video the committee showed Thursday.
On Jan. 6, Trump did not contact his Defense secretary or attorney general to call off the attack, Cheney said.
He became angry with aides who asked him to do something to calm the rioters, she said.
“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 ‘deserved it.’”
Thompson said part of the purpose of the hearing was to remind the American people what happened on Jan. 6.
In the past 17 months, Trump allies, including members of Congress, have sought to “rewrite history,” Thompson said, downplaying the seriousness of the attempted coup.
“Tonight and over the next few weeks, we’re going to remind you of the reality of what happened that day,” he said. “But our work must do much more than just look backwards. The cause of our democracy remains in danger.”
Earlier Tuesday, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized the committee, calling it “the most political and least legitimate committee in American history.”
Throughout the hearing, Republican House members blasted the committee on social media and suggested its investigation was unimportant.
“The partisan January 6 committee is nothing more than an illegitimate show trial,” Arizona’s Andy Biggs tweeted.
“Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, tweeted.
The first testimony the panel presented was video footage of Bill Barr, the U.S. attorney general on Election Day 2020, who resigned the next month over a disagreement with Trump about the legitimacy of the election.
“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 bullshit,” Barr said in the taped testimony.
Barr continued, saying he told Trump “in no uncertain terms,” there was no evidence of fraud. Barr said there was “absolutely zero basis” for allegations that voting machines were used to steal the election.
Barr called those allegations “complete nonsense,” “crazy stuff” and said “it was doing a great, great disservice to the country.”
The panel also showed video of Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, who said Barr’s views about the lack of fraud were convincing to her.
The panel’s next hearing is set for 10 a.m. Monday.