US: Capitol attack hearings open; panel chair accuses Trump of conspiracy

The former President's supporters opened with a prime-time televised presentation on Thursday



Photo: AP
Photo: AP

By Reuters

Published: Fri 10 Jun 2022, 6:28 AM

Congressional hearings into the 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters opened with a prime-time televised presentation on Thursday, as the committee’s chairman accused the former president of being at the centre of a conspiracy to thwart democracy.

After almost a year of investigation, the 'US House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack' prepared to show videotaped testimony from senior Trump White House officials and campaign officials, committee aides said.

“The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over,” Democratic US Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, said in excerpts of his opening statement. “There are those in this country 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 opened the hearing reminding people in the room and a national television audience of the oath of office that members of Congress take. Thompson said lawmakers “swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. That oath was put to test on Jan. 6, 2021” by domestic enemies with the encouragement of the president of the United States.

“Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020. The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud,” Thompson added.

Thompson said Trump was “at the centre of the conspiracy” evidenced by the Capitol attack.

Since leaving office last year, Trump has kept up his false claims that his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud, an assertion that has been rejected by multiple courts, state election officials and members of his own administration.

Close Trump associates who have spoken to the committee include his son Donald Jr., daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Attorney General William Barr and senior aides to former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump, publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, called the committee in a statement on Thursday “political thugs.”

The hearing will feature two in-person witnesses, US Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who sustained a traumatic brain injury in the attack, and Nick Quested, a film-maker who captured footage of the far-right Proud Boys group, accused of planning the deadly attack.

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Other Capitol Police officers who fought with rioters on January 6 were present in the audience for the hearing including Officer Harry Dunn, who wore a T-shirt bearing the word “insurrection” and Officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten and electrocuted with a taser during the attack. Some House Democrats who are not panel members also attended.

A total of six hearings are expected this month as the Democratic-led committee attempts to reverse Republican efforts to downplay or deny the violence of the attack, with five months to go until the November 8 midterm elections that will determine which party controls both the House and the Senate for the following two years.

There are two Republicans on the committee: Representatives Liz Cheney, its vice chair, and Adam Kinzinger.

The pro-Trump mob sought to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, attacking police and causing millions of dollars in damage. Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

The committee wants to make the case not just that the attack was planned with the cooperation of members of Trump’s inner circle, but that there is an ongoing threat to US democracy.

Biden on Thursday described the attack as “a clear, flagrant violation of the Constitution,” telling reporters: “I think these guys and women broke the law, tried to turn around the result of an election.”

PARTISAN LENS

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday underscored the partisan lens through which many Americans view the assault. It found that among Republicans about 55% believed the false claim that left-wing protesters led the attack and 58% believed most of the protesters were law-abiding.

A Republican candidate for Michigan governor was arrested on Thursday on misdemeanor charges related to his participation in the riot.

Two Republican Georgia state election officials who Trump tried to pressure to “find” votes that would overturn his election defeat will testify to the hearings later this month, a source familiar with the matter said.

Some congressional Republicans criticized Trump in the first days after the attack, but since then almost all have shifted their tone.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called the committee a “smokescreen” for Democrats to push dramatic changes to voting laws. “It is the most political and least legitimate committee in American history,” McCarthy said.


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