(WASHINGTON) — In a prime-time hearing, the House select committee on Thursday began laying out the findings of its ongoing investigation, placing former President Donald Trump at the center of what it called the “culmination of an attempted coup” and “multistep conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election.”
From a packed room in the Cannon House Office Building, the panel spent almost two hours unearthing new details of what members have learned behind closed doors over the course of their 11-month investigation — gathering more than 140,000 documents and 1,000 witness interviews to piece together details from, and leading up to, the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.
The hearing, the first of several this month, included never-before-seen footage of the attack and distress calls from law enforcement that left some in the room in tears.
Taped depositions with Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and other members of Trump’s inner circle were also aired before the committee heard live testimony from two people on the ground that day: Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and documentarian Nick Quested.
In the audience were law enforcement members who pushed back against rioters as well as widows of officers who died in the aftermath.
“Tonight and over the next few weeks, we are going to remind you of the reality of what happened that day,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening statement. “But our work must do much more than just look backwards, because our democracy is in danger. The conspiracy to defraud the will of the people is not over.”
Here are some key takeaways:
Committee places Trump at center of ‘attempted coup’
In his opening statement, Thompson — looking directly at the camera and reading from a teleprompter — called Jan. 6 “the culmination of an attempted coup” and illustrative of “President Trump’s last stand — his most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”
“He lost in the courts, just as he did at the ballot box. And in this country, that’s the end of the line,” he said. “But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election.”
Thompson laid out how every president in American history has carried out the peaceful transfer of power — until Trump — and previewed how the committee would use testimony from Trump’s own allies to show he directly encouraged his supporters to stop lawmakers from certifying election results.
“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.
Vice-Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Trump “coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
Cheney also built a case against fellow Republican officeholders, addressing them directly: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone. But your dishonor will remain.”
Key players offer first-hand insight into Trump’s thinking
Using recorded testimony from Trump officials including former Attorney General Bill Barr, former Trump spokesman Jason Miller, campaign attorney Alex Cannon and some of Trump’s closest family members, Cheney argued that Trump was “well aware” both that he lost the election and of ongoing violence at the Capitol yet still moved forward with a plot to stay in power.
In a video clip from an interview with Barr, Trump’s attorney general said he “repeatedly told the president, in no uncertain terms, that I did not see evidence of fraud and — you know, that would have affected the outcome of the election.”
Ivanka Trump, in another clip, was asked about Barr’s statement that the Justice Department found no fraud sufficient to overturn the election.
“It affected my perspective,” she said of Barr’s assessment. “I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.”
Cheney also showed a tape of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner telling the committee that he dismissed White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s “multiple” threats to resign in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot.
“I kind of took it up to just be whining, to be honest with you,” Kushner said.
“Whining,” Cheney recounted to the hearing room. “There is a reason why people serving in our government take an oath to the Constitution… And that oath must mean something.”
Witness testimony claims Trump expressed Pence ‘deserves’ hanging
Further laying out what the committee learned in its interviews, Cheney said the American people will soon hear testimony from former White House staff about Trump’s reaction to rioters threatening violence against then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“You will hear testimony that ‘the president didn’t really want to put anything out calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave,"” Cheney said in her opening statement. “You will hear that President Trump was yelling and ‘really angry at advisers who told him he needed to be doing something more."”
“And, aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,"” she recounted. “Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.”
Capitol Police officer recounts disbelief as ‘war scene’ unfolded
Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after rioters knocked her to the ground, painted a dire picture of what took place that day, describing it as “an absolute war zone” with “hours of hand-to-hand combat.”
“I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because I — what I saw was just a war scene,” Edwards testified. “It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
“There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. You know, they had, I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell,” she said.
“It was carnage,” she continued. “It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw, never in my wildest dreams did I think as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.”
Edwards was knocked unconscious during an altercation with rioters — a moment captured on video that aired during the hearing — but returned to duty at the Capitol’s west terrace. She was also later hit with pepper spray and tear gas.
Teasing what’s to come
The House select committee will hold five more hearings this month. The next one is Monday at 10 a.m.
That hearing, Cheney said, will focus on how Trump and his team knew he had lost the election but continued to spread false claims about fraud and unsuccessfully litigated the matter in court.
At the third hearing, slated for June 15, the committee plans to argue that Trump planned to replace Barr so the Department of Justice could act on his false election claims. Cheney said he even went so far as to offer Jeff Clark, an environmental lawyer at the DOJ, the role of acting attorney general.
The fourth hearing is expected to focus on Trump’s pressure campaign to get Pence not to certify the 2020 election. Pence refused and has repeatedly said he never had the authority to do so, despite Trump’s claim.
Trump’s efforts to halt the counting of electoral votes at the state level will be the focus of the fifth hearing.
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