Key takeaways from US Congress hearing on January 6 Capitol riot

Trump took centre stage as US lawmakers pushed to highlight the danger and violence of the 2021 attack on US Capitol.

Thompson and Cheney
January 6 committee vice chair Liz Cheney and chairman Representative Bennie Thompson during the congressional hearing, June 9, 2022 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Former President Donald Trump was a constant theme in the much-anticipated prime time congressional hearing on the January 6, 2021 US Capitol riots.

The event on Thursday evening – more than 18 months after the attack – captured the attention of Washington, DC as the committee tasked with investigating the riots continues its probe.

Leading Republicans had dismissed the hearing as a “witch hunt”, questioning the legitimacy of the January 6 panel.

Thursday’s hearing largely focused on Trump’s role in the riots, which were carried out by his supporters who wanted to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory based on false allegations of widespread election fraud.

Here is a look at five key takeaways from the hearing:

Trump’s role takes centre stage

From the outset of the hearing until its conclusion, one name kept coming up: Donald Trump.

At every turn, the committee’s leaders highlighted the former president’s role in the riots.

Liz Cheney, vice chair of the panel and one of two Republicans on it, said Trump “summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack”.

“On the morning of January 6, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” she said.

For his part, committee chair Bennie Thompson accused Trump of attempting to stop the transfer of power, calling the January 6 rioters “domestic enemies of the Constitution”.

“It was domestic enemies of the Constitution, who stormed the Capitol and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people to stop the transfer of power,” he said. “And they did so at the encouragement of the president of the United States – the president of the United States, trying to stop the transfer of power.”

The panel highlighted Trump’s public statements claiming that the election was illegitimate, as well as his efforts within the administration to overturn the 2020 vote.

Attack was planned, committee says

Lawmakers stressed throughout the hearing that the attack on the Capitol was planned in advance, not an impromptu riot after a Trump rally near the White House.

“The attack on our Capitol was not a spontaneous riot,” Cheney said. “Intelligence available before January 6 identified plans to invade the Capitol, occupy the Capitol, and take other steps to halt Congress’ count of electoral votes that day. In our hearings to come, we will identify elements of those plans, and we will show specifically how a group of Proud Boys led a mob into the Capitol building on January 6.”

Thompson also underscored the role of far-right groups in planning the attack.

“Two violent extremist groups have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6 attack,” Thompson said, naming the groups as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

More hearings will further scrutinise Trump

Cheney outlined some of what is to be expected in future hearings. Thursday’s event was the first of seven hearings by the panel.

Cheney said future hearings will look into Trump’s actions in the run-up to the riots and how officials in his administration told the former president that allegations of election fraud were false.

“As you will see in great detail in our hearings, President Trump ignored the rulings of our nation’s courts, ignored his own campaign leadership, his White House staff, many Republican state officials, ignored the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security,” Cheney said.

There will also be witnesses “on how the day played out inside the White House”, she said.

Cheney added that future testimonies will highlight discussions inside Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from the US Capitol, said it appears that each of the future hearings “analyses a portion of what the committee says is Trump’s culpability in all of this”.

Former Trump-appointed attorney general says there was no election fraud

William Barr, former US attorney general who resigned after the 2020 elections, dismissed allegations of election fraud, saying that he did not want to be part of that campaign.

“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 bull***t,” Barr says in a video from a testimony played at the hearing.

In another video, the former attorney general also rebuked allegations advanced by Trump’s allies that voting machines were rigged, describing the theory as “complete nonsense” and “crazy stuff”.

In a separate video, Trump’s daughter and former White House adviser Ivanka Trump said she accepted Barr’s assessment that there was no election fraud.

“It affected my perspective,” she says of Barr’s testimony in a video played at the hearing. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he said.”

Ivanka Trump testified at the committee behind closed doors in April.

Riots put US democracy at risk, committee leaders say

As some Republicans downplay the severity of the riots, the January 6 panel argued on Thursday that the attack on the Capitol endangered the American governing system.

“January 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk,” Thompson said in his opening testimony.

He added that the “conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over”.

“There are those in this audience who thirst for power but have no love or respect for what makes America great: devotion to the Constitution, allegiance to the rule of law, our shared journey to build a more perfect union,” Thompson said.

He called the riots the “culmination of an attempted coup“.

‘It was carnage; it was chaos,’ says Capitol officer

A large part of the hearing was dedicated to highlighting how violent the attack on the Capitol was.

The committee played new videos of the attack that it said were never shown before.

The footage featured angry Trump supporters marching on the Capitol and breaching the barricades surrounding the building as law enforcement officers struggled to contain them.

Many of the rioters wore tactical gear and waved Trump flags.

Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer who was injured during the attack and one of Thursday’s two witnesses, described how she and other officers tried to contain rioters trying to breach the building.

“It was carnage; it was chaos,” she said. “I can’t even describe what I saw. I never in my wildest dreams did I think that as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.”

Edwards said she witnessed her fellow officer Brian Sicknick, who would die later after the riots, with his “head in his hands” during the attack.

“He was ghostly pale, which I figured at that point that he had been sprayed, and I was concerned,” she told the committee. “My cop alarm bells went off because if you get sprayed with pepper spray, you’re going to turn red. He turned just about as pale as this sheet of paper.”

Source: Al Jazeera