Capitol riot committee holds first hearing

By Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner, Maureen Chowdhury and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 7:48 p.m. ET, July 27, 2021
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11:10 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Some Republicans have tried to falsely paint the Jan. 6 events as a "peaceful protest." Here's the truth. 

From CNN's Holmes Lybrand, Tara Subramaniam and Janie Boschma

The House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 convened for the first time, and it did so against a backdrop of Republican objections and falsehoods.

Four police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 are testifying now before the House select committee about what they witnessed that day and the harm they experienced.

The false narratives about the events of Jan. 6 have evolved over the past few months, with different politicians adding new, more wild conspiracy theories to the mix and trying to use congressional hearings meant to investigate the riot instead to promote their rewriting of history.

Some Republicans have tried to paint the events of Jan. 6 as mostly peaceful except for a few bad apples.

One of the biggest promoters of the idea that the riot was actually a largely peaceful event is Ron Johnson, the only Republican senator who has been an outspoken denier of the Jan. 6 events.

In a May 19 Fox News interview, Johnson called the Capitol attack a "peaceful protest."

“Even calling it an insurrection, it wasn’t. I condemned the breach, I condemned the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol intent on overthrowing the government is just simply a false narrative. … By and large it was peaceful protest except for, there were a number of people basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol.”

Facts First: Johnson's attempt to downplay the insurrection is obvious nonsense; the attack on the Capitol was anything but peaceful. Trump supporters did bring and used weapons during the riot.

Echoing Johnson, GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde made one of the most egregious comparisons to downplay the riot, suggesting many members of the mob looked like regular tourists.

In a May during a congressional hearing, Clyde claimed the attack looked like a "normal tourist visit."

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the sixth, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Facts First: Clyde is referring to one moment after the rioters broke into the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall. Other footage of Jan. 6, however, shows rioters beating a police officer with a flagpole, as well as using police shields to smash through windows and clambering over the Capitol walls — not typical tourist behavior.

Read more fact checks debunking false narratives surrounding Jan. 6 here.

11:15 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Officer Dunn calls for moment of silence for fallen officer Sicknick 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn began his opening remarks by asking those in the committee room to hold a moment of silence for fallen US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

"I would like to take a moment of my time to ask for a moment of silence for my fallen colleague, officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries he sustained in the line of duty defending the Capitol of our beloved democracy," Dunn said.

Watch:

10:43 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

"I went to hell and back to protect them": Officer slams lawmakers who downplay Jan. 6 insurrection

From CNN's Elise Hammond

The Jan. 6 insurrection "didn't have anything to do with political parties," DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone said during testimony at the select committee hearing, adding those who are denying what happened that day "betray their oath of office."

"I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist, or that hell actually wasn't that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful," Fanone said, slamming his fist on the table.

He said his job is to serve and protect lawmakers and the public and nothing could have prepared him for the aftermath of that day.

"Being an officer you know your life is at risk whenever you walk out of the door, even if you don't expect otherwise law-abiding citizens to take up arms against you," he said. "But nothing – truly nothing – has addressed the elected members of our government that continue to deny the events of that day, and in doing so, betray their oath of office. Those very members whose lives, offices, staff members, I was fighting so desperately to defend."

He said he agreed to testify at the hearing and talk publicly about what happened because he thinks the response going forward should be nonpartisan.

"I know that what my partner Jimmy and I suited up for on January 6th didn't have anything to do with political parties or about politics or what political party any of you public servants belong to," Fanone said.

"I've worked in the city for two decades and I've never cared about those things no matter who was in office. All I've ever cared about is protecting you, and the public. So you could do your job and in service to this country and for those whom you represent," he added.

10:59 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

DC police officer: I pleaded with rioters "I've got kids"

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/AP
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/AP

DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone said that he was attacked by rioters and "electrocuted again and again and again with a taser." 

"I'm sure I was screaming but I don't think I could even hear my own voice," Fanone said.

He said that his body camera captured the violence of the crowd directed toward him on Jan. 6.

"It's an important part of the record for this committee's investigation and for the country's understanding of how I was assaulted and nearly killed as the mob attacked the Capitol that day," he said.

He called the video "essential" for the record of what happened during the insurrection.

During the attack, Fanone said he thought his four daughters would lose their dad.

While he was being attacked, Fanone said, he attempted to "appeal to any humanity" that the rioters might have.  

"I said as loud as I could manage 'I've got kids.' Thankfully some in the crowd stepped in and assisted me," Fanone said.

He said after he was pulled out, he was taken to the hospital and was told by a physician that he suffered a heart attack.

"And I was later diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder," the officer said.

"As my physical injuries subsided and the adrenalin that stayed with me for weeks waned, I've been left with the psychological trauma and the emotional anxiety of having survived such a horrific event. And my children continue to deal with the trauma of nearly losing their dad that day," he continued

Watch:

10:52 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Officer at Capitol on Jan. 6: I kept thinking "this is how I'm going to die" 

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell recounted being crushed by rioters on Jan. 6 and implored lawmakers to investigate the insurrection.

"It is imperative that the events of Jan. 6 are fully investigated in the Congress and the American people know the truth of what actually occurred and that all of those responsible are held accountable, particularly to ensure the horrific and shameful event in our history never repeats itself," Gonell said during the House select committee's first hearing.

Gonell said that while growing up in the Dominican Republic, he looked up to the US as the "land of opportunity and a place to better myself." He said that from the moment he landed in the US in 1992, he "tried to pursue that goal."  

"I was the first in my family to graduate college, join the Army and become a police officer. On July 23, 1999, the day before my 21st birthday, I raised my hand and swore to protect the Constitution of the United States. Because this country gave me an opportunity to become anything that I wanted," he said. 

Gonell, an Iraq War veteran, said that on Jan. 6, "I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than in my entire deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the army or as a law enforcement officer prepared me for what we confronted on Jan. 6."

He described the struggle to defend the Capitol building on Jan. 6, saying rioters had chemical sprays, knives, tactical gear and police shields taken from officers. They were saying "Trump sent us. Pick the right side," he said.

"To be honest, I do not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 or the United States that they claim to represent," Gonell said.

Gonell said he and other officers were punched, cursed at, threatened and crushed by the rioters. 

"I fell on top of some police shields on the ground that were slippery because [of] the pepper spray and bear spray. Rioters immediately began to pull me by my leg, by my shield, by my gear strap on my left shoulder. My survival instincts kicked in and I started kicking and punching as I tried to get the officer's attention behind me. They could not help me because they also were being attacked. I finally was able to hit the rioter who was grabbing me with my baton and was able to stand. Then I continued to fend off new attackers as they kept rotating in, attacking us again and again. What we were subjected that day was like something from a medieval battle," he said.

"I can remember losing oxygen and thinking to myself 'this is how I'm going to die, defending this entrance,'" he said.

Gonell became visibly emotional during his statement.

When he got home at nearly 4 a.m. on Jan. 7, he said he could not hug his wife because of all the chemicals on his uniform. He was back to work later that morning, and he worked for 15 consecutive days to continue defending the Capitol. He said he continues to recover from injuries, six months later.

"We are not asking for medals, recognition; we simply want justice and accountability. For most people, Jan. 6 happened for a few hours. But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended. That day continues to be a constant trauma for us literally every day," Gonell said.

Watch Sgt. Gonell's opening remarks:

10:28 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Officer at Capitol riot: I heard chants of "kill him with his own gun"

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/AP
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/AP

DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone said during his opening remarks that Jan. 6 was "unlike anything I had ever seen" in his 20 years with the MPD police.

He said that during the attack he was at risk of being stripped of and killed with his firearm. He said during the riot he heard chants of "kill him with his own gun." 

"I can still hear those words in my head today," Fanone said.

Some more background: Of the hundreds of police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, none has become more outspoken than Fanone. He has met with lawmakers, publicly supported the creation of a bipartisan commission and slammed Republicans who whitewashed the violence of that day.

CNN exclusively obtained Fanone's body-worn camera footage, which shows how he was pulled into the crowd, beaten with a flagpole and repeatedly tased with his own Taser.

Read more about Fanone's story here.

CNN's Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen contributed reporting to this post. 

4:36 p.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Officers are giving first-hand accounts of the Capitol riot. Here's a reminder of how the day unfolded. 

From CNN’s Ted Barrett, Manu Raju and Peter Nickeas

Some of the police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 are testifying now before the House select committee about what they witnessed that day, when rioters breached the Capitol building.

Supporters of former President Trump engulfed the building in chaos after Trump urged his supporters to fight against the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes to certify President Biden's win. Several people died and dozens of officers were wounded as a result of the riot.

Today is the first day of the House select committee's hearing that is investigating the insurrection.

Here's a reminder of how key events unfolded throughout that day at the Capitol:

  • At 1:10 p.m. ET, while Congress began the process of affirming then-President-elect Biden's Electoral College win, Trump encouraged his supporters to protest at the US Capitol. Despite promising he would join them, Trump retreated to the White House in his SUV and watched on television as the violence unfolded on Capitol Hill.
  • Shortly after 1 p.m. ET, hundreds of pro-Trump protesters pushed through barriers set up along the perimeter of the Capitol, where they tussled with officers in full riot gear, some calling the officers "traitors" for doing their jobs.
  • About 90 minutes later, police said demonstrators got into the building and the doors to the House and Senate were being locked. Shortly after, the House floor was evacuated by police. Then-Vice President Mike Pence was also evacuated from the chamber, he was to perform his role in the counting of electoral votes.
  • An armed standoff took place at the House front door as of 3 p.m. ET, and police officers had their guns drawn at someone who was trying to breach it. A Trump supporter was also pictured standing at the Senate dais earlier in the afternoon.
  • The Senate floor was cleared of rioters as of 3:30 p.m. ET, and an officer told CNN that they had successfully squeezed them away from the Senate wing of the building and towards the Rotunda, and they were removing them out of the East and West doors of the Capitol.
  • The US Capitol Police worked to secure the second floor of the Capitol first, and were seen just before 5 p.m. ET pushing demonstrators off the steps on the east side of the building. 
  • With about 30 minutes to go before Washington, DC's 6 p.m. ET curfew, Washington police amassed in a long line to push the mob back from the Capitol grounds. It took until roughly 5:40 p.m. ET for the building to once again be secured, according to the sergeant-at-arms.
  • Lawmakers began returning to the Capitol after the building was secured and made it clear that they intended to resume their intended business — namely, confirming Biden's win over Trump by counting the votes in the Electoral College.
  • Proceedings resumed at about 8 p.m. ET with Pence — who never left the Capitol, according to his press secretary — bringing the Senate session back into order.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement earlier on the evening of Jan. 6 that congressional leadership wanted to continue with the joint session that night.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that the "United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats."

It took until deep in the early hours of Thursday morning (Jan. 7), but Congress eventually counted and certified Biden's election win.

See the full timeline of events here.

10:13 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Committee needs to rise above politics and overcome efforts to "obscure the facts," Cheney says

From CNN's Elise Hammond

Jim Bourg/Pool/Getty Images
Jim Bourg/Pool/Getty Images

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney said this select committee and investigation must be nonpartisan and finding the facts must "arise above politics."

In opening her statement at the committee's first hearing on Tuesday, Cheney said Republicans recognized "the events of that day for what they actually were," saying that one of her colleagues called the insurrection "unacceptable and un-American."

"No member of congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible, obstruct this investigation or white wash what happened that day. We must act with honor and duty and in the interest of our nation," she said.

Cheney called for those who participated in the violence to be arrested and prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law." She also said the committee should enforce subpoenas quickly in an effort to get to the truth.

"The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed for every American, is this – will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our constitution?" she said. "I pray that that is not the case."

10:05 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Cheney: If Congress does not act responsibly "this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic"

Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP

GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, said during her opening statement that if those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly "this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic."

Cheney opened her remarks by taking shots at her own party. She said that the members of the committee voted for and would have preferred an "independent nonpartisan commission" that was composed of five members from each party, but it was opposed by Republican leadership in the House and defeated by Republicans in the Senate.

She said that the committee must learn "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. Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward. If those responsible are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic. Undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system," she said.

She continued: "We will face the threat of more violence in the months to come and another January 6th every four years."