January 6 hearings: Capitol insurrection was 'brazen attempt' at coup, says panel

House select committee begins making the case to prove former president Donald Trump led a deadly insurrection

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The US House of Representatives panel investigating the 2021 assault on the US Capitol began outlining its findings in a prime-time televised hearing on Thursday, releasing new information that handed responsibility for the insurrection to former president Donald Trump and his supporters in what amounted to a "coup" attempt.

The first of six live hearings began with committee chairman Bennie Thompson outlining the basic duties of the committee over the past year and their goals: To defend and uphold the constitution of the United States, "from all enemies, foreign and domestic".

"Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020," Mr Thompson said. "The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of the rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud."

The committee will show that the violence was part of a broader conspiracy by Mr Trump and his inner circle to illegitimately hold on to power, the panel chair said.

"January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup -- a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6 -- to overthrow the government," Mr Thompson said.

The panel's carefully produced presentation made use of testimony given behind closed doors by some of Mr Trump's most senior and trusted advisers, including former attorney general William Barr and Mr Trump's son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner.

Former attorney general William Barr said that there was no evidence whatsoever of fraud. Getty / AFP

"I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen," Mr Barr said.

Mr Thompson said January 6 and the "lies" that led to the insurrection put two-and-a-half centuries of American constitutional democracy at risk.

"The world is watching what we do here. America has long been expected to be a shining city on a hill. A beacon of hope and freedom. A model for others — when we’re at our best," he said.

“How can we play that role when our own house is in such disorder? We must confront the truth with candour, resolve and determination."

Former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said that he thought staffers threatening to resign after January 6 were 'just whining'. House Select Committee / AP

He was accompanied by the full House select committee comprising Democrats Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin, Zoe Lofgren, Elena Luria, Pete Aguilar and Stephanie Murphy, and Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

As she laid out what the hearings would show, Ms Cheney recounted how Mr Barr told Mr Trump that his allegations about faulty voting machines were groundless.

Mr Barr said he saw "absolutely zero basis for the allegations", but that they were made in such an incendiary way that people started believing it.

"They obviously were influencing a lot of people, members of the public, that there was just systemic corruption in the system and that their votes didn't count and that these machines controlled by somebody else were actually determining it, which was complete nonsense," Mr Barr said.

In a recorded deposition, Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka said Mr Barr's assessment directly affected her views of the voter fraud claims.

"I respect Attorney General Barr," said Ms Trump. "So I accepted what he was saying."

However, her husband and former adviser to her father, Mr Kushner, told the committee he was more concerned with granting last-minute pardons and was not concerned that White House counsel Pat Cipollone was threatening to resign.

"The team are always saying. 'Oh, we're going to resign. We're not going to be here if this happens, if that happens,' so I kind of took it up to just be whining to be honest with you," Mr Kushner said in his taped interview.

Republicans chose to censure Ms Cheney and Mr Kinzinger in February for their participation and earlier on Thursday, Congressman Kevin McCarthy called the panel "the most political and least legitimate committee in American history".

Former US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and British filmmaker Nick Quested also appeared before the committee.

Ms Edwards was the first officer to be injured as rioters took over the Capitol building, according to the committee. She suffered a concussion and other injuries and has yet to return to service.

After thanking her for her service, Ms Cheney showed a clip of rioters knocking her to the ground and then pepper-spraying her in the face.

"I felt the bike rack come down on the top of my head ... and the back of my head caught the concrete stairs," Ms Edwards.

She described the melee as "a war scene".

“I couldn't believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood,” Ms Edwards said. “I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”

Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who was embedded with the Proud Boys, a far-right militia group, testifies during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U. S.  Capitol in Washington, DC. AFP

Quested had been following the extremist Trump-supporting group the Proud Boys in the months leading up to January 6, 2021, and was with leader Henry Tarrio the night before.

Never-before-seen footage shot by the filmmaker showed Tarrio meeting with the leaders of the Oath Keepers was shown and Quested testified that he thought he would be filming just another rally.

"We arrived at the mall and observed a large contingent of Proud Boys marching towards the Capitol," Quested said. "I documented the crowd turn from protesters to rioters to insurrectionists."

He said that he was surprised at the size of the group, their anger and the profanity.

"For anyone who didn't understand how violent that event was, I saw it. I documented it and I experienced it. I heard incredibly aggressive chanting and I subsequently shared that footage with the authorities," he said.

Ms Cheney reminded the gallery that after many hours of violence, Mr Trump told the rioters, "Go home ... we love you, you're very special."

The committee then played a “teaser” clip of former vice president Mike Pence speaking at the Federalist Society in February, signalling evidence yet to come.

“President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election,” Mr Pence told the group. “The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion than any one person could choose the American president.”

The case the committee plans to make is that Mr Trump laid the groundwork for the insurrection through two months of debunked claims of fraud in an election described by his own administration as the most secure in history.

His White House is accused of involvement in potentially illegal schemes to aid the effort, including a plot to seize voting machines and another to appoint fake “alternative electors” from swing states, who would ignore the will of their voters and hand victory to Mr Trump.

“We will be revealing new details showing that the violence of January 6 was the result of a co-ordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election and stop the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden,” a select committee aide said.

“And, indeed, that former president Donald Trump was at the centre of that effort.”

Thursday’s opening also focused on the far-right Proud Boys group as they breached the building.

Some of the group’s leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy.

Committee officials said the excerpts from their recorded depositions were among previously unseen material the panel has gathered and they provide new details on the lead-up to the attack and the riot itself.

Updated: June 10, 2022, 7:40 PM
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