Key takeaways from Jan. 6 hearing: Powerful testimony counters revisionist history

The committee heard from four police officers who defended the Capitol.

July 27, 2021, 4:17 PM

The House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol held its first hearing Tuesday in which lawmakers heard dramatic, emotional accounts from law enforcement officers who defended the building against a pro-Trump mob.

"We're going to revisit some of those moments today, and it won't be easy," Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said to open the hearing, while praising the officers for holding the line. "But history will remember your names and your actions."

PHOTO: From left, officers Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Michael Fanone, Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn, are sworn in to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
From left, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police, Officer Michael Fanone of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police and Private First Class Harry Dunn of the U.S. Capitol Police are sworn in to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via Getty Images

Here are some key takeaways:

All witnesses feared for their lives during attack

The four officers testifying -- Capitol Police officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police Department officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges -- flatly rejected any attempts to rewrite history and downplay the attack as one that shouldn't be investigated further, telling lawmakers they all feared for their lives on Jan. 6.

When Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., asked Gonell to respond to former President Donald Trump's calling the crowd "loving." Gonell placed responsibility on him for sending his supporters to the Capitol.

"It's a pathetic excuse for his behavior for something that he himself helped to create -- this monstrosity," Gonell said. "I'm still recovering from those 'hugs and kisses' that day."

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell wipes his eye as he watches a video being displayed during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021.
Jim Bourg/Pool via AP

Hodges, who referred to the rioters as "terrorists," detailed the weapons used against officers that day including police shields, batons, hammers, a sledgehammer, flag poles, tasers, pepper spray, bear and wasp spray, copper pipes, rocks, table legs broken down, guardrails, cones and "any items they can get their hands on."

"There were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms and a couple hundred of us, maybe. So we could not -- if that turned into a firefight, we would have lost," he said. "And this was a fight we couldn't afford to lose."

Hodges, who was crushed in a doorway that day, recalled how he had to wrestle with one rioter who tried to take his baton and how another shouted at him, "'You will die on your knees.'"

Officer Daniel Hodges of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department is crushed in a doorway to the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Jon Farina/Status Coup

Gonell also described the day as a scene "from a medieval battlefield."

"I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, 'this is how I'm going to die, trampled defending this entrance,'" he said.

But the officers said they didn't think twice about defending the Capitol and democracy, as traumatic as the experience was for them, their colleagues and families.

"Us four officers, we would do Jan. 6 all over again," Dunn said. "We wouldn't stay home because we knew what was going to happen. We would show up. That's courageous. That's heroic. So what I ask from you all, is to get to the bottom of what happened."

The lawmakers choked up at times during the officers' testimony including Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who told them, "You guys may like individually feel a little broken ... but you guys won."

"Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We're defined by how we come back from bad days," he said.

Racial slurs heard at riot haunt hearing room: 'I guess it is America'

Racial slurs haunted the hearing room as officers recounted chants made by the mob, moving some officers to tears and prompting some lawmakers to hang their heads.

Dunn recounted the racist verbal abuse he endured from rioters in emotional testimony and said it was the first time he had been called the n-word in uniform.

"I'm a law enforcement officer and I do my best to keep politics out of my job, but in this circumstance I responded, 'Well, I voted for Joe Biden, does my vote not count? Am I nobody?'" he said he told rioters who falsely shouted at him the election was stolen.

"That prompted a torrent of racial epithets," Dunn said. "One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled "You hear that guys, this n***** voted for Joe Biden."

Dunn, who also witnessed a Confederate flag carried through the Capitol, said that other Black officers shared similar stories of racial abuse from the day.

U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn becomes emotional as he testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, July 27, 2021 at the Canon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Oliver Contreras/Pool via Getty Images

"I sat down on the bench in the Rotunda with a friend of mine, who is also a Black Capitol Police officer and told him about the racial slurs I endured. I became very emotional and began yelling, 'How the blank could something like this happen? Is this America?'" he said. "I began sobbing."

When Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., posed the same question to Dunn later, the officer said, "I guess it is America. It shouldn't be."

A supporter of President Donald Trump that breeched security and entered the U.S. Capitol in protest, carries the Confederate flag, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Committee looking to subpoena Trump, lawmakers

Cheney, in her opening statement, made clear the committee is open to subpoenaing the former president, White House aides and members of Congress as they create a timeline of the day.

"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. Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward," she said.

Rep. Liz Cheney greets Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone before the first House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters

Adding to that pressure, all four witnesses told lawmakers they wanted an investigation into those in power who may have aided and abetted rioters.

Dunn used an analogy with a hitman to describe his expectations, in an apparent nod to the former president, after the witnesses spent three and a half hours recounting chants of "Trump sent us," among others.

"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 Jan. 6 and a hitman sent them," he said. "I want you to get to the bottom of that."

From left, Rep. Pete Aguilar, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, listen during the Select Committee investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, July 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AFP/Getty Images

Thompson said at a press conference after the hearing that the committee could be brought back for another hearing during the House's August recess, which starts Friday. The panel said its work is just beginning.

The Department of Justice said in letters to former Trump officials, and provided to congressional committees, that they can participate in the investigations into the Jan. 6 attack, according to sources and letters reviewed by ABC News earlier Tuesday.

Cheney and Kinzinger poke holes in GOP arguments against committee

The two Republicans on the panel spent their questioning time pushing back on some of the most prominent Republican talking points after Jan. 6 -- including that the rioters were not violent and that whatever took place at the Capitol paled in comparison to violence perpetrated by antifa during racial justice protests.

"I condemn those riots and the destruction of property that resulted -- but not once did I ever feel that the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on Jan. 6," Kinzinger said. "There was a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law, between a crime, even grave crimes and a coup."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger listens during the House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters

Kinzinger also defended his choice to serve on the committee, saying it's "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 and defend our democracy."

Cheney reminded in her opening statement that she and other lawmakers preferred to establish an independent commission to investigate the attack, but that effort was "defeated by Republicans in the Senate."

"That leaves us where we are today. We cannot leave the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes uninvestigated," she said. "If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic."

The former No. 3 House Republican also reminded that her GOP colleagues had "recognized the events that day for what they actually were" in the days after the attack, even if members downplay it now.

Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Republicans who boycotted the select panel said the hearing should focus on the fact that Capitol Police were unprepared for Jan. 6. But because they gave up their ability to participate in the hearing, they couldn't lead the discussion in their preferred direction -- or challenge Democrats' lines of inquiry the way Cheney and Kinzinger picked apart some of their claims.

Officers, while praised for heroism, blast lawmakers for partisan politics

While the officers were praised throughout the hearing for holding the line on Jan. 6, with lawmakers on the panel thanking them for their protection, the officers didn't hold back when describing their disapproval in how partisan politics has muddied the search for the truth.

Fanone, the Metropolitan Police Department officer who was dragged down the Capitol steps, beaten with a flagpole, tased repeatedly and taunted with chants of "kill him with his own gun," called out lawmakers on Tuesday who have blocked efforts for an investigation.

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful," he said, slamming his fist on the witness table. "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."

"Nothing -- truly nothing -- has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day, and in doing so betray their oath of office," he added.

Gonell said of the former president downplaying the day, "It's insulting, it's demoralizing because everything that we did was to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt."

U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn becomes emotional as he testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021.
Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Reuters

Dunn said that the investigation is innately political because of the landscape surrounding the attack, but that it shouldn't stop lawmakers from seeking the truth.

"It's not a secret that it was political. They literally were there to stop the steal. So when people say it shouldn't be political, it is. It was and it is. There's no getting around that," he said.

"Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being lauded as courageous heroes and while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard?" he asked. "I guess in this America, it is."

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