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Capitol Cop: Nothing I Saw in Iraq Prepared Me for January 6

Day One of the select committee’s hearings showed why Republicans fought so hard against it.
by Jim Swift
July 27, 2021
Capitol Cop: Nothing I Saw in Iraq Prepared Me for January 6
Aquilino Gonell, sergeant of the U.S. Capitol Police, Michael Fanone, officer for the Metropolitan Police Department, Daniel Hodges, officer for the Metropolitan Police Department, and Harry Dunn, private first class of the U.S. Capitol Police, are sworn in during a hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. Members of law enforcement testified about the attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump on the U.S. Capitol. According to authorities, about 140 police officers were injured when they were trampled, had objects thrown at them, and sprayed with chemical irritants during the insurrection.(Photo by Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images)

This is how congressional hearings should be conducted.

There was a time when Congress wasn’t a total circus—when it was capable of passing laws and holding serious hearings on matters of national importance. I know there was such a time on Capitol Hill because I worked there then. Now, though, rather than having his party participate in a respectable way in the work of the January 6th Committee, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took his ball and went home.

To anyone who watched Tuesday’s first hearing of the committee, it quickly became apparent that McCarthy made a big miscalculation.

In keeping with the Trump-era GOP’s carnival-barker approach to politics, McCarthy’s Republicans did try to reduce the proceedings to a circus. Before the committee hearing began, the House Republican leadership held a press conference outside the Capitol blaming Nancy Pelosi for January 6th. I’m serious. Never mind that Nancy Pelosi is not solely in charge of the security of the Capitol; it’s a responsibility her office shares with that of the Senate majority leader. I’m wondering what the logical next step in that argument is:

Meanwhile, down the street, the GOP’s Crazy G Circus—Representatives ​​Gohmert, Gaetz, Greene, and Gosar—tried to hold a press conference of their own in front of the Department of Justice, complaining about the treatment of the “political prisoners” who stormed the Capitol. (The witnesses at the committee hearing were not amused.) Thankfully, that farcical briefing was peacefully shut down by protesters.

After opening statements from the committee’s chairman Reps. Bennie Thompson and ranking republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the first day’s witnesses spoke: four police officers, two from the U.S. Capitol Police and two from D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. Their testimony was riveting. In their powerful spoken remarks, accompanied by phone videos and body-camera footage, they relived what is probably the worst day in their lives.

These men did not mince words. MPD officer Daniel Hodges called the insurrectionists “terrorists.” USCP Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, an immigrant, talked about his time in the U.S. Army, saying “nothing in my experience” in Iraq prepared him for January 6th. MPD officer Michael Fanone channeled his inner Col. Frank Slade, slamming the table and saying that the indifference shown to his colleagues by House Republicans was “disgraceful.” And USCP officer Harry Dunn, whom Tucker Carlson labeled an “angry left-wing activist,” powerfully described what it was like to have insurrectionists calling him the n-word while in uniform. Repeatedly.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the only Republican member of the committee other than Cheney, got choked up when it came time for questioning. So did Rep. Adam Schiff. Naturally, some folks on right-wing Twitter mocked them for this, and mocked the witnesses for their emotions, too. One particularly nutty sleaze-slinger even called the police officers “crisis actors.” I wasn’t in the hearing room, but as a former congressional staffer and a former credentialed journalist, I got choked up long before Kinzinger did: People I know, good people, police officers, journalists, and staffers, were on the Hill on January 6th. One former colleague had to use a couch to barricade the press gallery. Another took a picture of cops with guns drawn in the House chamber, depicting a guy who was on my old boss’s security detail, presumably ready to shoot. For denizens of the Capitol, it’s hard not to take this very personally.

Imagine if the events of the past few days had turned out slightly differently, and the Republicans whom Kevin McCarthy had selected for the committee had actually joined it. Think about the kinds of noxious statements-posing-as-questions Rep. Jim Jordan would have made. What could Rep. Jim Banks have asked? According to Rep. Steve Scalise, the GOP whip who himself was shot in an act of political violence, the absence of Jordan and Banks from the committee is a case of cancel culture. But since Jordan might himself be called to testify as a material witness, one wonders how a member of Congress could serve on a panel where he might theoretically have to take questions on substance too.

It didn’t have to be this way. Republicans had the option to go with a nonpartisan commission and decided that was too much.

Today, we saw why.

Nancy Pelosi called their bluff and prevented them from turning the committee’s proceedings into a circus, because that would be worse for America.

The committee’s work has just begun, and there are still major procedural questions about what comes next, including one big one: Will former Trump administration officials be testifying? In her opening statement, Cheney called for accountability from the Trump White House. To that end, it would be good to hear sworn testimony from Mark Meadows, Mike Pence, and others about January 6th and the events leading up to it.

And maybe from Trump himself.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.