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What the Jan. 6 Committee Could Mean for Trump

As the right wing attacks the four officers who testified in the first hearing, the new Capitol Police chief says he is proud of them.
July 28, 2021
What the Jan. 6 Committee Could Mean for Trump
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: U.S. Capitol Police officer Sgt. Aquilino Gonell becomes emotional as he testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Canon 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 Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Six months after an insurrectionist mob attacked our democracy, the U.S. Congress has taken up the cause of determining who was behind it and who should pay for it. Some consider it a study in foregone conclusions. Some don’t want it investigated at all. And others who protected members of Congress on January 6 say they can’t put the day’s events behind them until those responsible are brought to justice.

After the GOP fought tooth and nail not to investigate the riot, the committee put together by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has two Republicans on it: Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, pariahs inside the GOP because they decided to put country before their party.

Kinzinger in his opening statement was reduced to tears at several points as he explained what was at stake:

Like all Americans, I am frustrated that six months after a deadly riot breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television … we still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic, and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and employees on the Capitol Complex, and to the American people who deserve the truth.

And it’s why I agreed to serve on this committee. I want to know what happened that day, but more importantly, I want all Americans to be able to trust the work this committee does and get the facts out there, free of conspiracy.

This cannot continue to be a partisan fight. I am a Republican, I am a conservative, but in order to heal from the damage caused that day, we need to call out the facts. It’s time to stop the outrage and conspiracies that fuel violence and division in our country, and most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it. As a country, it’s time to learn from our past mistakes, rebuild stronger so this never happens again, and move onward.

In serving on this committee, I am here to investigate January 6th—not in spite of my membership in the Republican Party, but because of it—not to win a political fight, but to learn the facts.

“We don’t blame victims. We go after criminals,” Kinzinger proclaimed.

That sentiment was echoed by Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn. “If a hitman is hired and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail—but not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on January 6th and a hitman sent them.” Dunn wants Congress to go after who hired the hitman.

Tuesday’s hearing was filled with emotion, as four officers who served on the front line during the insurrection testified as to the danger they faced—how they were beaten, denigrated, and threatened by as many as 9,000 insurrectionists who faced off with a few hundred officers.

When asked what he and the other officers were fighting for on January 6, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who was nearly crushed between two doors during the riots, replied that “it was for democracy, it was for the men and women of the House and Senate, it was for each other, and it was for the future of the country.”

Officer Michael Fanone, beaten unconscious and nearly killed by his own weapon, appealed to the insurrectionists not to kill him, yelling “I’ve got kids.” Fanone, who is himself a conservative Republican, told the committee:

At no point that day did I ever think about the politics of that crowd. Even the things that were being said did not resonate in the midst of that chaos. But what did resonate was the fact that thousands of Americans were attacking police officers who were simply there doing their job and that they were there to disrupt members of Congress who were doing their job.

Officer Harry Dunn testified how the crowd was filled with racists hurling insults at him as they pressed forward on the Hill. “No one had ever, ever called me a ni**er while wearing a uniform of a Capitol Police officer,” he stated bluntly. Dunn said that another black officer told him that “he had never, in his entire forty years of life, been called a ni**er to his face, and that streak ended on January 6th.”

“Is this America?” Dunn asked rhetorically, only to later answer that it was—but it isn’t all that America is.

Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant, relayed how officers were attacked multiple times. He’s still suffering from his injuries and faces another year of surgeries and rehab because of it. Gonell is a naturalized citizen, a veteran of Iraq, and said he’d never faced anything there like he faced in January. The insurrection was “totally different—this is our own citizens,” he said.

And Gonell said he knew who was behind it all. It wasn’t Antifa. It wasn’t Black Lives Matter. It wasn’t the FBI. And it sure as hell wasn’t a bunch of friendly tourists.

According to Gonell, it was Donald Trump.

While all of the witnesses during the committee’s first day of hearings said there should be no politics behind finding who was responsible and holding them accountable, this being D.C., you cannot take the politics out of the mix.

It even extends to the current occupant of the White House, Joe Biden, who has distanced himself from the proceedings. He’s in the middle of his own mess, still dealing with a pandemic made worse by the GOP. Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s daily briefing on Tuesday dealt with a variety of questions about vaccinated adults having to put face masks back on because of the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus. She took just one question on the insurrection hearing, and made quick work of it.

“The president has had a range of meetings and briefings and engagements this morning. I know he’s intending to catch updates and clips, and certainly staff will share with him what they’ve seen as we’ve watched the briefings, but he has not been in a position, via his schedule, to watch the hearings this morning,” she said. And she told us that Biden would have no statement to make on the hearing.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, usually the most vocal man in the country, also said nothing about the hearings Tuesday.

But many of his supporters took to social media to attack the testimony of the four police officers and belittling them at every turn, calling them actors, liars, and worse. Some of Trump’s supporters in the media took the same tack—such as Laura Ingraham, who said the officers deserved acting awards:

Among the texts belittling the officers that I received from Trump supporters: “I heard that one of the ‘bad guys’ even called a cop a bad word. Oh the horror of it all.” Another, from a QAnon supporter who often texts me, said it was obvious that the events of January 6 were allowed to happen so the Democrats could exploit them for political reasons.

Yet at the same time, many of these very same people would have you believe the rioters were nothing more than friendly tourists—or, as Trump said earlier this month, “peaceful people” and “great people” having a “lovefest.”

“If that’s what American tourists are like I can see why foreign countries don’t like American tourists,” Officer Hodges said with a straight face.

“I watched the entire hearing,” the newly sworn-in U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told me on Tuesday night. “Proud of all four of them. Their voices need to be heard.”

In the end, when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) asked the officers what they wanted to see result from the committee’s work, it was Hodges who said it best:

As patrol officers, we can only deal with the crimes that happen on the streets. . . . You guys are the only ones we’ve got to deal with crimes that occur above us. I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this—if anyone in power coordinated, or aided, or abetted, or tried to downplay or tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack. Because we can’t do it. We’re not allowed to. And I think a majority of Americans are really looking forward to that as well.

If you want to know who was behind the insurrection, we all know it was Donald Trump.

Even Republican leaders knew that once, before their partisan amnesia kicked in.

Remember when Kevin McCarthy said “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters”?

Remember when Mitch McConnell said “The mob was fed lies. . . . They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of a branch of the federal government.”

Remember when top Trump administration officials, including cabinet officers, resigned out of disgust at Trump’s incitement?

The question remains what, if anything will be done about it.

Tuesday’s hearing showed that whatever happens, it will go badly for Trump. He’s in the crosshairs. He incited the riot. And, as Raskin said, the police officers fought to hold the line on January 6—and now Congress must hold the line.

If these hearings are effective, they could mark the beginning of the end for Trump as an effective actor or credible candidate on the national stage.

If he does not run again, historians will have a variety of theories to explain why.

But it may just be that four working-class cops—the kind he claims to love—will get the credit for driving a stake through his heart.

Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine. He successfully sued Donald Trump to keep his press pass after Trump tried to suspend it. He has also gone to jail to defend a reporter's right to keep confidential sources.