Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony

The House select committee’s first hearing Tuesday to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol was as personal as it was probing. 

Sober verbal accounts from four police officers who came under physical and psychological attack that day were combined with raw video footage of rioters shouting epithets and using physical force against law enforcement.

The panel hearing the testimony was unusually united — especially for present-day Washington. It included seven Democrats and two Republicans all handpicked by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders MORE (D-Calif.).

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All were critical of former President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE, who was impeached for inciting a mob to attack the Capitol. No defenders of Trump were present after Pelosi rejected two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWhite House debates vaccines for air travel McCarthy on Dems' spending bill: 'The amount of money we spent to win World War II' Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE’s (R-Calif.) choices.

Here are five takeaways from the day.

Democrats picked their witnesses carefully

Each of the four officers selected to testify before the committee had previously shared gripping accounts of their experiences with various news outlets.

The panel likely knew what it was getting on Tuesday, and what a nation watching on cable television received was dramatic, stark and personal.

“On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq,” said Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant and Army veteran.

Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges repeatedly called all of the rioters “terrorists” and offered a definition to back up his statements when asked about his use of the word by Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinGOP seeks to keep spotlight on Afghanistan as Dems advance Biden's .5T spending plan Raskin writing memoir about Jan. 6, son's suicide House Democrats demand details after Border Patrol agents accused of profiling Latinos in Michigan MORE (D-Md.).

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There was also plenty of criticism of GOP lawmakers who have downplayed the violence.

Hodges, questioned about a Republican lawmaker who compared the rioters to “tourists,” joked that if they were tourists, no wonder U.S. visitors to other countries are so unpopular.

“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this,” he added on a much more serious note. “If anyone in power coordinated or aided or abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack. Because we can’t do it. We’re not allowed to.”

Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, in a moment of anger, slammed his fist on the table, saying: “The indifference being shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”

Fanone previously shared how rioters threatened to kill him with his own gun and used his taser to repeatedly shock him into submission.

“My law enforcement career prepared me to cope with some of the aspects of this experience. Nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so, betray their oath of office,” he said.

GOP tried to distract

Trump had no defenders at the hearing, so House GOP leaders before the event held a press conference to blame Pelosi, and not the former president, for what played out on Jan. 6.

“On Jan. 6 these brave officers were put into a vulnerable and impossible position because the leadership at the top failed,” McCarthy told reporters, speaking of Pelosi, not Trump. 

McCarthy, who reportedly urged Trump on the phone to call off his supporters on Jan. 6, did not mention his false claims that he won the election, which brought many of the rioters to the Capitol.

Pelosi’s office said congressional leaders don't oversee daily Capitol security decisions and that the Speaker never denied a request to activate the National Guard. And at their press conference, House Republican lawmakers did not answer reporters’ questions about why Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeking challenger to McConnell as Senate GOP leader: report Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' Buckle up for more Trump, courtesy of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ky.), who was still Senate majority leader during the insurrection, shouldn’t share equal blame for the security meltdown.

A group of Trump’s most vocal allies, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE (R-Ga.), Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally Police brace for Capitol rally defending Jan. 6 mob MORE (R-Fla.), Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarDomestic extremists return to the Capitol Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (R-Ariz.) and Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Security forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (R-Texas), also tried to hold counterprogramming in the form of a press conference outside the Justice Department to demand a status report on imprisoned Capitol riot defendants.

But the media grab didn’t go as well as they hoped: The Republicans ultimately cut the event short due to interruptions by a group of counterprotesters. Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot MORE (R-Wyo.), one of the two Republicans on the select committee, denounced the attempted distraction as a “disgrace.”

Kinzinger seizes moment

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Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot MORE (R-Ill.) held back tears as he lambasted GOP colleagues for downplaying the riot.

“I never expected this day to be quite as emotional for me as it has been,” said Kinzinger, a National Guardsman who was called to duty last summer when racial justice protests turned violent.

But Kinzinger drew a sharp contrast between those protests and Jan. 6.

“Not once did I ever feel like the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on Jan. 6,” he said. 

Sitting next to Cheney, Kinzinger criticized his GOP colleagues for turning the committee’s work into a bitter ideological bash. 

“I’m frustrated that six months after a deadly insurrection breached the U.S. Capitol for several hours on live television, we still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because members of my party have treated this as just another partisan fight,” Kinzinger said. “It’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to staff and employees of the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth and to the generations who went to war before us to defend self-governance.”

Racism on Jan. 6 takes center stage

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Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, gave bracing testimony about rioters calling him the N-word, saying it was the first time he’d ever been labeled that while in uniform.

Asked by Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Jan. 6 panel says it is reviewing Milley actions MORE (D-Miss.) how that made him feel, Dunn said he at first didn’t process what happened as a racist attack but later called it “overwhelming” and “disheartening.” 

“Those words are weapons,” Dunn said. 

Gonell, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarWatch live: House Democratic leaders hold press conference Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report MORE (D-Calif.) about how some people focused on his race and questioned his allegiance to America.

“Even through my mask, they saw my skin color and said, ‘You’re not even an American,’” said Gonell. “Whether I was in the military, they don’t know that. But they’re yelling and saying all these things to me.” 

Hodges, who is white, later said matter-of-factly that the crowd was notably white and male. 

“I think out of the entire time I was there, I saw just two women and two Asian males. Everyone else was white males,” said Hodges.

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Gripping language underscores severity of attack

Committee members and witnesses used sharp language and slogans in an attempt to emphasize the severity of the events for the historical record.

Dunn likened rioters to criminals carrying out illegal orders from a “hit man,” not naming Trump.  

“It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6, and a hit man sent them,” Dunn said. 

At another point, in response to a question by Cheney, Gonell called Trump’s characterization that the insurrectionists were a “loving” bunch a “pathetic excuse.”

Hodges, who was captured on video being crushed by protesters while trapped in a doorway, regularly called those who stormed the Capitol “terrorists,” one of the strongest terms used about the violent mob. He also used the word “lynched” to describe what he was afraid could have happened to him.

There’s a “difference between a crime and a coup,” Kinzinger said at another juncture, offering a phrase that is likely to draw attention from both Republicans and Democrats.