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Officers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder
On Capitol Hill, partisanship is coin of the realm. Still, a congressional probe of the Capitol riot should not be political. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can't help herself. She made the probe irredeemably political by refusing to seat two prominent Republicans - Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jim Banks (Ind.), both tireless Donald Trump apologists - who had been chosen by GOP leadership to serve on the select Jan. 6 Committee.
On the terms that she gratuitously imposed, then, Pelosi emerges as the big loser after the committee's first hearing on Tuesday.
The hearing featured the devastating testimony of four heroic police officers, who were bloodied but unbowed in fighting to defend Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence from throngs of rioters, many of them as racist as they were rabid. The cops' accounts were as unimpeachable as they were chilling.
Pelosi had nothing to fear from Jordan and Banks. The speaker claims to desire the truth, but the truth never worries about being challenged. No one could have laid a glove on these witnesses.
The speaker may aspire to Machiavelli, but this was an amateur-hour backfire. By her imperious move, she has undermined the committee's credibility in the eyes of many Republicans - not just Trump diehards but conservatives and moderates who believe in bipartisan comity. Pelosi gave House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and ardent Trump supporters, who wanted no part of a Capitol riot investigation, all the excuse they needed to pull up stakes and dismiss the committee as a partisan stunt.
That's a shame. Congress has a duty to conduct an investigation - a duty that doesn't evaporate when the nominal leaders can't find it in themselves to be adults. The cops' testimony was worth all of the country's attention, the millions of potential television viewers Pelosi likely has driven away most of all.
The way you win an argument, a trial, or a hearing in America is not by rigging the tribunal. It is by strategically, methodically starting your case with what cannot be disputed or defended. That is what the committee did in eliciting testimony from Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, along with Officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police.
The veteran cops, some of whom had defended our country on overseas battlefields before becoming police in Washington, described how they were brutally attacked by rioters. Thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators were determined to stop the constitutionally-required joint congressional session at which state-certified electoral votes are counted, and the winner of the presidential election - in this instance, Joe Biden - is recognized. Too many of those demonstrators came ready to stop it by any means necessary.
Officer Hodges labeled those demonstrators - the rioters - "terrorists." He explained that, in so doing, he was relying on a congressional law (Section 2331 of the penal code), which defines "domestic terrorism" as illegal activities that are "dangerous to human life" and intended, among other things, "to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."
Plainly, it is overwrought for Democrats to claim that the Capitol uprising was an atrocity on a par with terrorist attacks, such as 9/11, in which nearly 3,000 Americans were killed, the World Trade Center was destroyed, and the Pentagon similarly struck by an airliner converted into a missile. But Hodges's invocation of the statutory definition of terrorism was fair. Indeed, the cops' testimony left little room for argument.
As a recent Senate report showed, there is reason to doubt that the riot would have happened at all, or gotten as out of hand as it did, if security agencies had not been derelict in assigning a sufficient number of adequately trained personnel. But that is no fault of the police who were on hand, putting their lives on the line. That included hundreds, such as Officer Fanone, who responded to the scene even though they weren't on duty, because they'd heard the Capitol was under siege.
The violence was not spontaneous - certainly not all of it. Patently, Trump-supporting mobs, whipped up by self-styled militia groups, had planned to fight. Scores were garbed in paramilitary gear. They bore clubs, toxic sprays and tasers, and they made ready use of bicycle racks and shards of broken barriers as offensive weapons as they stormed the complex, outnumbering police by 50-to-1, Hodges estimated.
Menacing rioters managed to break through the defenses, but police opted not to use their firearms. They didn't want to make matters worse, Kent State-style. They were fearful of provoking what they believed might be overwhelming return fire, or of having their guns wrested away and used against them.
Although the police could not prevent the breach, their struggle to hold the perimeter security delayed it enough for Pence and lawmakers to be whisked out of harm's way, and for reinforcements to arrive. That is why the riot was quelled in just a few hours' time, and why what was an utter disgrace did not descend into something even worse.
The cops' testimony powerfully illustrated that the former vice president and members of Congress were in real danger.
The police, though trained to deal with violent suspects and chaotic situations, were battered. Officer Fanone was knocked unconscious and suffered a heart attack, after being clubbed and tased - and nearly having his weapon taken from him by thugs who were threatening to use it against him. The committee played video of Officer Hodges - having already been beaten and with his lip split open - being pinned against the metal doorway he was trying to block, lest rioters get access to lawmakers.
Sgt. Gonell was so severely beaten that he already has endured extensive surgery to repair one foot badly damaged by rioters, and now faces more surgery to repair severe shoulder injuries. But neither those wounds, nor the poisonous sprays that burned his body, stopped him from returning to the fray to aid his fellow officers - and then returning to work the next morning to guard the Capitol.
Given that the rioters had no compunction about assaulting the police, and continuing to batter them after they were hurt, the elected officials who were the real target of their wrath would have had no chance if the cops had not been willing to be the last line of defense.
Nor was it just the physical struggle. That most Trump supporters are not racists cannot obscure the disgusting epithets to which non-white officers, and particularly African American cops, were subjected. Officer Dunn eloquently related his reaction, and those of his fellow Black officers, veering from deep sorrow to righteous rage. Sgt. Gonell, a native of the Dominican Republic, who dreamed of coming to America as a child and went to war for her as a young man, remains dumbfounded at being called a traitor and not a "real" American, by what he sees as a mob that committed treason against the Constitution.
In the end, it was astonishing that Pelosi believed there was anything a couple of Trump acolytes could have said that could conceivably have detracted from the power of this testimony. Far from excluding Jordan and Banks, and damaging the legitimacy of a worthy investigation, she could have embraced her zealous political rivals. Their presence would have brought into sharp relief the contrast between Trump's betrayal of the Constitution he was sworn to uphold and the officers' bravery in faithfully defending it.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Ball of Collusion." Follow him on Twitter @AndrewCMcCarthy.