WASHINGTON — The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has laid the blame firmly on Donald Trump, saying the assault was not spontaneous but an “attempted coup” and a direct result of the defeated president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.
With a never-before-seen 12-minute video of extremist groups leading the deadly siege and startling testimony from Trump’s most inner circle, the 1/6 committee provided gripping detail Thursday night in contending that Trump’s repeated lies about election fraud and his public effort to stop Joe Biden’s victory led to the attack and imperiled American democracy
“Democracy remains in danger,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the panel, during the hearing, timed for prime time to reach as many Americans as possible.
“Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after Jan. 6, to overthrow the government,” Thompson said. “The violence was no accident.”
But House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who has been caught up in the probe and has defied the committee’s subpoena for an interview, called the panel a “scam.”
20 Million Viewers for Hearing
An estimated 20 million people watched Thursday night’s hearing.
The figures released Friday by the Nielsen Company include viewers from 12 television networks that aired the rare primetime hearing, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX Business Network.
The numbers do not include online viewers or those who watched on PBS.
By comparison, the opening day of each of the Trump impeachment trials drew about 11 million viewers. Those aired during the day on fewer networks, but the far higher figures from Thursday suggest that the primetime experiment succeeded in capturing national attention in a way usually reserved for live sporting events.
Most Violent Attack on Capitol Since 1814
The hearings may not change Americans’ views on the Capitol attack, but the panel’s investigation is intended to stand as its public record. Before this fall’s midterm elections, and with Trump considering another White House run, the committee’s final report aims to account for the most violent attack on the Capitol since 1814, and to ensure such an attack never happens again.
Testimony on Thursday showed how Trump desperately clung to his own false claims of election fraud, beckoning supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when Congress would certify the results, despite those around him insisting Biden had won the election.
In a previously unseen video clip, the panel played a remark from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who testified that he told Trump the claims of a rigged election were “bull——.”
In another clip, the former president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, testified to the committee that she respected Barr’s view that there was no election fraud. “I accepted what he said.”
Others showed leaders of the extremist Oath Keepers and Proud Boys preparing to storm the Capitol to stand up for Trump. One rioter after another told the committee they came to the Capitol because Trump asked them to.
Cheney: ‘Trump Summoned a Violent Mob’
“President Trump summoned a violent mob,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair who took the lead for much of the hearing. “When a president fails to take the steps necessary to preserve our union — or worse, causes a constitutional crisis — we’re in a moment of maximum danger for our republic.”
There was a gasp in the hearing room when Cheney read an account that said when Trump was told the Capitol mob was chanting for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged for refusing to block the election results. Trump responded that maybe they were right, that he “deserves it.”
At another point it was disclosed that Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a leader of efforts to object to the election results, had sought a pardon from Trump, which would protect him from prosecution.
When asked about the White House lawyers threatening to resign over what was happening in the administration, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner scoffed they were “whining.”
Police officers who had fought off the mob consoled one another as they sat in the committee room reliving the violence they faced on Jan. 6. Officer Harry Dunn teared up as bodycam footage showed rioters bludgeoning his colleagues with flagpoles and baseball bats.
Trump Remains Unapologetic
In wrenching testimony U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards told the panel that she slipped in other people’s blood as rioters pushed past her into the Capitol. She suffered brain injuries in the melee.
“It was carnage. It was chaos,” she said.
The riot left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol. At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.
Trump, unapologetic, dismissed the investigation anew — and even declared on social media that Jan. 6 “represented the greatest movement in the history of our country.”
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted: “All. Old. News.”
The Justice Department has arrested and charged more than 800 people for the violence that day, the biggest dragnet in its history.