GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a ‘normal tourist visit’
Republican after Republican on Wednesday repeatedly sought to downplay the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection, with one Georgia lawmaker likening the mobs overwhelming Capitol Police and vandalizing Capitol offices to a “normal tourist visit.”
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) made the tourist comment, saying that calling what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 an insurrection “is a boldfaced lie.”
“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” the first-term lawmaker said. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you’d think it was a normal tourist visit.”
Four hundred people have been charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack, which interrupted the counting of the Electoral College and forced the evacuation of the House and Senate.
It also led to former President Trump’s second impeachment. Five people died from events associated with the attack, including a Capitol Police officer. Two other police officers died by suicide after the attack.
Republicans at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing about the attack Wednesday downplayed Trump’s involvement, with some defending the rioters.
The statements were particularly striking coming the same day the House GOP drummed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) out of leadership for her steady criticisms of Trump, who she and a handful of Republicans say incited the riot.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said Ashli Babbitt, a rioter shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to jump through a window smashed by the mob right outside the House chamber was a “veteran wrapped in an American flag” who was “executed.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) questioned whether the rioters were motivated by support for the former president, even though many of them have confirmed it in legal proceedings.
“I don’t know who did a poll to say that they were Trump supporters,” Norman said of the mob, many of whom were carrying signs or wearing clothing indicating their support for Trump.
“It was not an insurrection,” added Clyde, who noted he was in the House chamber when the mob tried to break down the doors. “There was an undisciplined mob. There were some rioters and some who committed acts of vandalism.”
Gosar asked former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen if Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was killed by a fire extinguisher, before cutting him off and stating that the officer “died of natural causes.”
Despite initial reports that Sicknick was bludgeoned in the head with a fire extinguisher, an autopsy later indicated he suffered two strokes after engaging with the mob and being sprayed with a chemical irritant.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) accused Democrats of “cherry-picking” Trump’s words from his rally outside the White House, in which he said those assembled would “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” at the Capitol but also warned that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
“In fact, it was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others,” Hice said.
Outraged Democrats accused Republicans of engaging in “revisionist history.”
“Rewriting history serves no purpose other than to cover up the violence and the brutality that we experienced and that was exhibited on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “A shame for America, a shame for this Congress. And revisionist history serves no purpose but to cover that up, and protect that brutality and that violence.”
Democrats also repeatedly clashed with former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who vociferously defended the Pentagon’s response to the attack and told lawmakers, “I stand by every decision I made on Jan. 6 and the following days.”
“Secretary Miller, I have never been more offended on this committee by a witness statement than yours,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said. “You were more concerned about defending your own reputation and justifying your actions than the sanctity of this Capitol and the sanctity of our democracy.”
Miller also tangled with Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) when he appeared to walk back previous comments blaming Trump’s speech at a rally before the attack for inciting the riot.
Miller, who said in March he thinks “it’s pretty much definitive” Trump supporters wouldn’t have overrun the Capitol without that speech, said Wednesday he now thinks the speech is “not the unitary factor at all.” He called Lynch’s assertion that he was reversing himself “ridiculous.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.
Miller also denied there was any delay in deploying the National Guard after the Capitol was breached, arguing “this isn’t a video game where you can move forces with the flick of a thumb.”
The timeline Miller offered for his approval to deploy the Guard generally lined up with previous testimony from then-D.C. National Guard commanding general Maj. Gen. William Walker that it took hours from the time the Capitol was first breached until final approval was given.
Miller said he approved the activation of the Guard at 3:04 p.m. and then approved the deployment at 4:30 p.m. after Walker delivered an operational plan.
Both Miller and Rosen also confirmed they never spoke to Trump on Jan. 6, saying they already had the authority they needed to take necessary action. Unlike state National Guards that are controlled by governors, the D.C. National Guard is controlled by the president, but that authority can be delegated to the Defense secretary or Army secretary.
Miller further confirmed he did speak with former Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, but, stressing that the vice president is outside the chain of command, characterized the conversation as Pence “[providing] insights based on his presence there” rather than ordering the Guard’s deployment.
“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” said House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Miller said he spoke with Trump on Jan. 3 about the District’s request for National Guard support in anticipation of protests Jan. 6 and that Trump told him to fill the request and “do whatever is necessary to protect the demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights.” Before the attack, D.C. officials had requested just 340 unarmed Guardsmen to help with traffic control.
Invoking the backlash to the Guard’s response to racial justice protests in June, the 1970 Kent State massacre and what he characterized as “hysteria” over whether Trump would use the military to stage a coup, Miller also stressed the military is a last resort for domestic law enforcement.
“I ask you to consider what the response in Congress and the media had been if I had unilaterally deployed thousands of troops into Washington, D.C., against the express wishes of the mayor and the Capitol Police, who indicated they were prepared,” he said.
Rosen, for his part, dodged questions about his conversations with Trump in a tense exchange with Connolly about whether the former president ever asked him to advance false election fraud claims or overturn the results of the elections.
“I can tell you what the actions of the department were,” Rosen said. “I cannot tell you consistent with my obligations today about private conversations with the president one way or the other.”