The House select committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 got underway on Tuesday (July 27). The first hearing will include the testimony of four police officers who helped defend the Capitol Building when a mob of Trump supporters protesting the results of the presidential election stormed inside.
The four officers include D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officers Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is chairing the committee, began the hearing with an opening statement, saying that a peaceful transfer of power "didn't happen this year" and suggested that the rioters "came dangerously close to succeeding."
"These rioters were organized. They were ready for a fight. And they came close to succeeding," Thompson said. "It's frightening to think about how close we were. A few inches of wood and glass. An officer turning left instead of turning right."
He also showed a never-before-seen video of the riot and thanked the officers for their efforts.
"You held the line that day. I can't overstate what was on the line, our democracy. You held the line. We're going to revisit some of those moments today. It won't be easy. History will remember your names and actions, and it's important to think about history as this committee starts its work," he said.
Rep. Liz Cheney, who is just one of two Republicans on the committee, also delivered opening remarks in which she vowed to find out what happened at the White House leading up to and during the riot.
"Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack. Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward. If those responsible are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic. Undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system," she said.
The officers who testified described harrowing moments as they came under attack from the rioters, who they referred to as terrorists. Sgt. Gonell said that the crowd showed up armed and ready to fight with officers.
"A baseball bat, a hockey stick, a rebar, a flagpole, including the American flag, pepper spray, bear spray. So you name it. You had all these items and things that were thrown at us and used to attack us. Those are weapons," Gonell said.
Officer Fanone described how he was attacked while trying to defend the building from the intruders. He made his comments after showing video footage taken from his body camera.
"Many of them had gas masks, and quite a few had shields which they had taken away from law enforcement officers. They were using them to beat us at the front line. The first thing I told them was, 'Hey, man, we got to get these doors closed. We got injured officers in here.' And that really seemed to miss those guys off," Fanone said.
"They became incredibly violent, and that's when that surge that you watched in some of the video began, and you had a large group at the mouth of that tunnel entrance trying to push their way through the officers who were fighting to defend it. I believe had they done so or had they accomplished that, they would have trampled us to death," he added.
Fanone said that he is still haunted by what happened on January 6.
"I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm as I heard chants of 'kill him with his own gun,'" Fanone said. "I can still hear those words in my head today."
He also chastised elected officials who have tried to downplay the events at the Capitol.
"I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room. But too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist, or that hell wasn't actually that bad," Fanone said.
"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful," Fanone continued as he slammed his fist on the table.
Officer Hodges defended calling those who stormed the building terrorists.
"U.S. Code title 18 part 1 chapter 1.1.3, B as in brown, section 18.104.22.168. The term domestic terrorism means activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, and B, appeared to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States," Hodges said in response to a question by Rep. Jamie Raskin.
The hearing came to a close after nearly three-and-half hours of testimony. Lawmakers are planning to return early from their summer recess in August for another hearing.
"We now have a body of testimony that we will review. We are in the process of putting that together. I put some members on notice that they won't enjoy the entire August recess, but we will give them time to work in their districts," said Thompson. "But, conceivably, we could come back before the end of August."