The first primetime hearing from the House select committee investigating January 6 presented gut-wrenching footage of the insurrection, and a range of testimony to build a case that the attack on the Capitol was a planned coup fomented by Donald Trump.
After a year and half investigation, the committee sought to emphasize the horror of the attack and hold the former president and his allies accountable.
Here are some key takeaways from the night:
Presenting an overview of the hearing and the ones to come, the House select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, and vice-chair, Liz Cheney, presented their findings that the violent mob that descended on the Capitol was no spontaneous occurrence.
Video testimony from Donald Trump’s attorney general, his daughter and other allies make the case that the former president was working to undermine the 2020 election results and foment backlash. “Any legal jargon you hear about ‘seditious conspiracy’, ‘obstruction of an official proceeding’, ‘conspiracy to defraud the United States’ boils down to this,” Thompson 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. Violence was no accident. It represented Trump’s last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”
As Trump carried on his lies that victory was stolen from him, his own administration and allies agreed the election was legitimate.
Former attorney general William Barr testified that he expressed Trump’s claims of a stolen election were “bullshit”. A Trump campaign lawyer told Mark Meadows in November “there’s no there there” to support Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud. Even Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, said she was convinced by Barr that the election was legitimate.
Graphic footage and harrowing testimony came from Capitol officer Caroline Edwards, who on the first line of defense against the attacking mob, reiterated the terror of the insurrection.
Edwards compared the scene to a war zone, saying she was slipping on others’ blood as she fought off insurrectionists. “It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw,” she said. The officer sustained burns from a chemical spray deployed against her, and a concussion after a bike rack was heaved on top of her. Officers and lawmakers watching the hearings teared up as they relived the violence of that day.
As the attack was being carried out, and the mob was threatening Vice-president Mike Pence’s life, Trump and his team continued to work to undermine the election.
After Pence refused to block the election certification, Trump and his supporters turned against him. Trump instigated the riot through a series of tweets.
As the mob cried “Hang Mike Pence!” the committee presented evidence that Trump suggested that might not be a bad idea. “Mike Pence deserves it,” the president then said. As violence ensued, “the Trump legal team in the Willard Hotel war room”, continued attempts to subvert the election results, Cheney said.
Footage and testimony from the film-maker Nick Quested, one of two witnesses at the hearing, suggested the Proud Boys had planned to attack.
On the morning of January 6, Quested testified that he was confused to see “a couple of hundred” Proud Boys walking away from Trump’s speech and toward the Capitol. The committee implied that this might have allowed them to scope out the defenses and weak spots at the Capitol.