WASHINGTON—“It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6 and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
That was Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, during his testimony to a House of Representatives investigative committee Tuesday. The implied hit man is former president Donald Trump, whose supporters attacked the Capitol building, threatened lawmakers, and violently assaulted police officers. Getting to the bottom of it is the reason the special committee he was speaking to began hearings Tuesday morning.
“Why is telling the truth hard?” Dunn said at a different point. “I guess in this America, it is.”
The problem is that truth itself has become a partisan question. Just look at the discourse around what happened on Jan. 6. Whether Americans see the events of that day as an attempt at insurrection or “normal tourist visit” or a glorious outpouring of patriotism is shaped largely by who they the vote for. But for a lot of people who were actually at the Capitol that day, establishing what happened, and why, and who was responsible is too important a question to be partisan.
Yet, as the man says, I guess in America, it is. Still.
Republicans in the Senate rejected the idea of an outside independent inquiry into the events of Jan. 6. Now, Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy and his caucus are boycotting this House investigation (after his suggested members were rejected as “ridiculous”).
At a press conference led by McCarthy Tuesday morning opposing the investigation as a partisan witch hunt, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik said, “The American people deserve to know the truth. That Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6.”
Trump-loyal Republicans have had a bit of a moving line on the Jan. 6 blame game. Many initially claimed leftist Antifa activists were secretly responsible. Many have since claimed it was no big deal, just a friendly enthusiastic protest. Others, including Trump, have recently portrayed those involved as heroic patriots whose actions were justified. Still others, like Stefanik, say it was all Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s fault.
But not all Republicans.
Rep. Liz Cheney — turfed from her position in party leadership because she refused to stop calling out Trump’s responsibility for the riot — is sitting on the committee, alongside fellow Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Cheney, in her own opening remarks, said the attack was a “cancer on the constitution,” one that threatened to repeat if not diagnosed and treated. “We must know what happened here at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack,” she said. “No member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible, obstruct this investigation, or whitewash what happened that day.”
On its emotional opening day, the special committee heard testimony from two Capitol Police officers and two D.C. Metro Police officers who were attacked defending the Capitol against the rioters.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell said the “coup attempt” that day scared him more than any experience during his military deployment to Iraq. He described a “medieval battlefield” in which officers were sprayed with bear spray, speared with flags, hit, kicked and punched — leaving him with injuries that required surgery. “That day continues to be a constant trauma for us, literally every day, whether it is from our physical or emotional wounds, or both.”
Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges had his eyes gouged, and was crushed in a door by protesters who told him he’d “die on your knees.”
Fellow officer Michael Fanone described being beaten and repeatedly Tasered to the point of unconsciousness, pleading he be allowed to see his kids again. “What makes the struggle harder and more painful is knowing that so many of my fellow citizens, including so many for whom I put my life on the line, downplay or categorically deny what happened,” he said. He pounded the table and raised his voice: “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Across the National Mall outside the Justice Department building, some Republican members of Congress, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Louis Gohmert, were holding a press conference claiming the real question about Jan. 6 was whether the 548 people so far arrested for their actions that day are “political prisoners” who are being mistreated.
In about 15 minutes of speeches in the blazing 33C early afternoon heat, they said they decried violence but questioned the culpability of Democratic leadership for ignoring warnings. And they wondered if those arrested — and the peaceful “Americans all over this country who are being harassed” by investigators — were suffering unjustly while Black Lives Matter protesters they characterized as also violent are free.
“We still need to know, do we have political prisoners here in America, or not?” Gohmert said.
The press conference was disrupted midway through by protesters holding up signs reading “Traitors and rapists, sit down.”
Even as the Republicans were hounded to their cars, a woman’s voice could be heard chanting, over and over. “Free the Jan. 6 prisoners!”
It was a chaotic but typical political scene. And different, Fanone’s comments an hour earlier at the hearing tried to remind people, than the scene at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “At no point that day did I ever think about the politics of that crowd — even the things being said did not resonate in that chaos. What did resonate was thousands of Americans there attacking police officers who were simply doing their job, and that they were there to disrupt members of Congress who were doing their job,” he said.
“It’s disgraceful that members of our government were responsible for inciting that behaviour, and continue to propagate those statements,” Fanone said. “To me those individuals are representative of the worst that America has to offer.”
Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org