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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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."

 

10:02 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

GOP Rep. Liz Cheney is delivering her opening remarks

From CNN's Jedd Rosche and Christopher Hickey

GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 select committee, is delivering her opening remarks.

Cheney was formerly the No. 3 member of House Republican leadership before a very public break with former President Trump following his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot.

The Republican from Wyoming was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year and has been an outspoken critic of both the former President and GOP lawmakers who support his “Big Lie” about the 2020 election. She was ousted from her leadership position in May.

Cheney was appointed to the committee by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month.

10:50 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Select committee shows never-before-seen video of Jan. 6 attack

The House select committee showed new video footage from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot at the start of today's hearing.

Before rolling the video, Committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson described the attack as an assault on the Capitol "not seen since 1814 when British soldiers sacked the building." 

They raced through the hallways chanting, "'Hang Mike pence. Where is Nancy?' They stormed onto the Senate floor because they wanted to stop the Senate from certifying the election. The rioters tried to take over the House floor for the same reason," he said.

New video of Capitol riot shown at insurrection hearing:

10:14 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

Committee chair says hearing will be "guided solely by the facts"

From CNN's Elise Hammond

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

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the Jan. 6 select committee, thanked the police officers who attended today's hearing to testify and said the hearing is going to be "guided solely by the facts," adding "there is no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation."

Thompson said the charge of the committee is to "follow the facts where they lead us," and while there is still a lot to uncover, he outlined some of the points lawmakers already know.

"We know that the insurrection on January 6th was a violent attack that involved vicious assault on law enforcement. We know there is evidence in a coordinated, planned attack. We know that men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country," Thompson said.

He said another major goal of the committee is to find way to eliminate the threat of "efforts to subvert democracy."

Two DC Metropolitan police officers and two Capitol police officers are testifying at the hearing on Tuesday. Thompson said all officers have the gratitude of the committee and the country.

"You held the line that day. I can't overstate what was on the line, our democracy. You held the line. We're going to revisit some of those moments today. It won't be easy. History will remember your names and actions and it's important to think about history as this committee starts its work," he said. "As we hear from these courageous men and to get answers for the American people because we need to understand our history if we want to understand the significance of what happened on January 6th in our role as members of the people's House. I'm talking about the peaceful transfer of power."

Some more background: Thompson worked with the panel’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York, to reach a compromise behind the legislation that would have created an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot.

That effort was blocked in the Senate and the House passed a bill to form the special committee that is meeting today.

Thompson has built much of his congressional career on the Homeland Security panel, defined by the fallout from devastating events like Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

CNN's Jedd Rosche and Christopher Hickey contributed reporting to this post. 

9:50 a.m. ET, July 27, 2021

The committee's chairman is delivering opening remarks. Here are key things to know about him.

From CNN's Lauren Fox, Jeremy Herb, Annie Grayer and Ryan Nobles

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Jan. 6 House select committee, is kicking off today's hearing with his opening remarks.

The 14-term congressman spent months trying to hammer out an agreement for a bipartisan commission to examine the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, only to watch a carefully crafted deal fall apart in the Senate thanks to GOP opposition.

Now, the 73-year-old Thompson is taking the helm of the House select committee at a time when the relationships on Capitol Hill are frayed, tensions are high, and as some of his Republican colleagues have denied the grim realities that defined the day altogether. 

Aides and fellow members are well aware the potential for the select committee to become little more than a forum for political jousting, but the same people say Thompson is uniquely positioned to succeed, approaching his new role armed with a reserve of bipartisan relationships, experience in investigating domestic terrorism and the temperament and patience that getting to the bottom of what unfolded on Jan. 6 may require, even if it drags on for a year or longer.

Thompson may also have to defend against attacks of his own partisanship. In 2005, Thompson was one of roughly 30 Democrats who voted to invalidate the election results from the state of Ohio when President George W. Bush was elected. That vote, which is similar to one that dozens of Republicans took in the hours after the insurrection, could open him up to attacks.

For Thompson, the fraught months ahead will be built on a career spent on the Homeland Security Committee and defined by the fallout from devastating events like Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This time, however, Thompson recognizes his investigation may force him to question his own colleagues and a former President who was the target of Democratic investigations for years and still has a loyal following on Capitol Hill.

Read more about Thompson here.