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Capitol Riot Probe Opens With Police View of ‘Medieval’ Battle

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/28/2021 Bloomberg News
a man wearing a suit and tie: House Select Committee Investigating January 6 Attack On US Capitol Holds First Hearing © Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images House Select Committee Investigating January 6 Attack On US Capitol Holds First Hearing

(Bloomberg) -- The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection began its work Tuesday in dramatic form, with hours of gripping testimony from four police officers who fought for their lives against a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters.

Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell dramatically recalled thinking, “this is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance” in testimony that stood as one of the emotional peaks of the committee hearing.

Gonell likened his and his fellow officers’ desperate battle to “something from a medieval battlefield. He added, “the physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating,” and that the emotional harm remains as well.

Some House members were so moved by the testimony they rushed up to Gonell and the three other officers after the hearing to show their appreciation. Representative Ann Kuster of New Hampshire, who is not even on the committee, was wiping away tears. “I was just doing my job,” Gonell told her at one point.

a group of people standing in front of a military uniform: capitol attack riot hearing GETTY sub © Photographer: Jim Lo Scalzo/Getty Images capitol attack riot hearing GETTY sub

The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee were selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has refused to seat Republican members after Pelosi vetoed two of his choices.

Key Developments:
Capitol Riot Probe Begins as Republicans Call It ‘Tainted’Pelosi Appoints GOP’s Adam Kinzinger to Jan. 6 CommitteePelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks for Jan. 6 Riot Probe

Gavel Comes Down, and Arguments Continue (11 p.m.)

Partisan tensions simmered hours after the hearing when a Democrat on the committee challenged a Republican colleague about whether he had taken the time to watch the officers’ testimony.

Jamie Raskin of Maryland, during an unrelated Rules Committee meeting brought up, Republican Andrew Clyde’s likening of the mob’s breaching of the building to a “normal tourist visit.”

Clyde, a Georgia Republican who is not on the Jan. 6 panel, said he did not say that – and that his remarks had been misinterpreted

The tension in the room became so charged enough that Rules Chairman Jim McGovern had to ask the two men several times to lower their voices.

“I spent four hours today with millions of Americans watching sworn police officers, testify about their battle to defend our lives,” said Raskin, who led the second impeachment prosecution of Trump. He added that there were memes repeating that the rioters were just tourists. -- Emily Wilkins

‘It Was For the Future of the Country,’ Officer says (12:26 p.m.)

Representative Stephanie Murphy told one officer she had been inside a Capitol office near where he and other officers were struggling to hold the line on rioters.

As District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges was crushed against a door frame, the Florida Democrat said she heard the yelling.

She told Hodges that he was the reason she was able to hug her children again. Rioters did not harm any members of Congress, she said, “because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress.”

“What were you fighting for?” she asked.

“Democracy -- you were 40 feet away,” Hodges replied. “It was for men and women in the House and Senate.”

“It was for the future of the country,” he added.

‘You Guys Won, You Guys Held,’ Kinzinger says (11:55 a.m.)

Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Pelosi appointee to the panel who has taken heat from his own party, said he decided to sit on the committee not in spite of being a Republican, but because he is a Republican.

Displaying some emotion, the combat veteran told the officers that as bad as they might feel, they won that day.

“You guys won, you guys held. Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We’re defined by how we come back from bad days,” Kinzinger said.

Kinzinger also slapped back at fellow Republicans who have demanded investigations into last summer’s riots following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. There’s a “difference between a crime, even grave crimes, and a coup,” Kinzinger said.

He said he was deployed as a guardsman to those summer riots, but “not once did I ever feel the future of self governance was threatened like I did on Jan. 6.” -- Billy House

Trump ‘Could Have Done a Lot of Things,’ Officer Says (11:25 a.m.)

Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney asked one officer how he felt about Trump describing the rioters as a “loving crowd.”

“It was upsetting,” U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell said, adding that Trump himself “helped to create this monstrosity.” The rioters, he said, told him and other officers “Trump sent us.”

“He could have done a lot of things. One of them was to tell them to stop,” Gonell said of Trump that day. -- Billy House

‘I Was Just Trying to Survive That Day,’ Officer Says (11:20 a.m.)

Chairman Bennie Thompson asked Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn what he was thinking amid the riot as a Black man, with the racial insults being hurled at him, and Confederate flags seen.

“To be frank, while the attack is happening, I wasn’t able to process it as a racial attack. I was just trying to survive that day,” Dunn said.

Dunn, however, later shed tears over racial slurs hurled at him from rioters. And he described comfort he and colleagues received afterward from a specific GOP House member, Rodney Davis of Illinois. (Davis had been one of the Republicans McCarthy picked for the committee.)

“More than six months later, Jan. 6 still isn’t over for me,” Dunn said, adding that he has undergone therapy since the insurrection. -- Billy House

Officer Describes Battle as ‘Meat Grinder’ (11:00 a.m.)

Hodges described being called a “traitor” and being told he was “on the wrong team” as he and others fought to defend the Capitol from a violent mob shouting “USA! USA!.”

“The sea of people was punctuated by flags,” Trump flags and American flags, he said. One person wore a shirt that said, “God, Guns and Trump.”

Hodges said one rioter tried to gouge his eye, another kicked him in the chest while trying to take his baton. Hodges and another officer disarmed another rioter who was wielding a large hunting knife.

Later, Hodges, stripped of his radio, said he and others did not know “terrorists” had gained entry into the building. Eventually, he said, “It was my time in the meat grinder that was the front line.”

Hodges was slammed by a man, trapped between a shield on his left and a metal doorframe on his right.

As he was stuck there, Hodges said one rioter struck him on the head, and stripped away his gas mask. “Heave, ho!” he heard from the crowd, as people continued to push forward crushing him in the door.

“I did the only thing I could do -- and I screamed for help,” he said. “Thankfully, my voice was heard” by other officers. -- Billy House

Officer Faults Lawmakers Who Deny Insurrection (10:46 a.m.)

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone told lawmakers that “nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me” to address elected officials who continue to deny or downplay what happened on Jan. 6.

“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” said Fanone, pounding his fist onto the desk.

Fanone talked about the bravery of those he saw that day, and described fighting at a West Terrace tunnel area, where he said thousands of people were pushing forward against 30 officers. He said he was nearly killed when he joined the fight that day.

He said he was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd, and heard someone scream: “I got one!”

They ripped off his badge, took his radio, and began to beat him. Fanone said the rioters stripped him of his own firearm, and stung him “again and again with my own Taser.”

At one point, Fanone said he pleaded with his attackers, “I got kids!” He suffered a concussion, heart attack and traumatic brain injury. -- Billy House

Officer Describes Desperate Battle at Capitol (10:09 a.m)

Gonell said he and other officers engaged in a desperate struggle akin to “something from a medieval battlefield” with an enraged mob that stormed Congress on Jan. 6 seeking to disrupt certification of the 2020 presidential election.

Gonell testified that he recalled thinking at the time, “This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance.”

Gonell, who has needed operations and physical therapy after injuries sustained that day, told the committee in his prepared statement that some of those in the crowd of Trump supporters used weapons that included hammers, metal bars, knives and batons, along with pepper spray and bear repellent as they broke through police lines. “I vividly heard officers screaming in agony and pain just an arms-length from me,” Gonell said.

They hurled verbal abuse at officers and shouted he should be “executed,” Gonell said. Gonell said he also heard specific threats against the lives of Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence.

-- Billy House

Cheney takes on Trump in opening remarks (9:55 a.m.)

Cheney took aim at Trump indirectly in her opening statement, saying the investigation should not be limited to what happened at the Capitol.

“We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House -- every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack,” Cheney, who is taking on the unofficial mantle of ranking Republican on the committee, said.

Cheney, who lost her position earlier this year as the third-ranking House Republican, spoke to the unusual circumstances of her serving on the committee at the request of Pelosi, not her own party.

“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan,” she said. “I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member on this Committee.”

But Cheney stressed the need to “get to the objective truth” of what happened that day.

“Will we adhere to the rule of law, respect the rulings of our courts, and preserve the peaceful transition of power?” she asked. “Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America?” -- Billy House

Thompson blasts attempts to ‘whitewash’ insurrection (9:35 a.m.)

Thompson opened the hearing Tuesday saying “there’s no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation.”

“We need to understand how and why ‘the Big Lie’ festered,” and how to fix the damage, the Mississippi Democrat said. “It won’t be easy work.

Thompson said much is already known -- that the insurrection was a violent attack, that those “who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country,” and that “the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding.” He said the officers testifying Tuesday are among those who courageously fought to hold the line that day.

“Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it,” Thompson said. “But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.” -- Billy House

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