Four police officers who defended the Capitol from a Jan. 6 riot by Donald Trump supporters spoke out Tuesday during the first hearing of the select committee investigating the attack, sharing harrowing details of their physical and mental trauma.
As the riot fades from public memory amid a new wave of Republican revisionism, select panel members aimed to cast the hearing — the first time Congress has heard publicly from law enforcement on the front lines of the response to Jan. 6 — as a vivid reminder of what happened.
“Some people are trying to deny what happened — to whitewash it, to turn the insurrectionists into martyrs,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the panel, said in his opening statement. “But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6. The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol.”
Thompson was followed by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), appointed to the panel alongside Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) after top House Republicans shunned the committee.
Cheney said the panel should pursue every facet of the facts about Jan. 6 but also dig into “every minute of that day in the White House,” a subtle but unmistakable shot at the former president who she lost her GOP leadership spot for criticizing.
“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984,” Cheney said, and has “disagreed sharply on policy and politics” with all Democratic members of the select panel, but “in the end we are one nation under God.”
“Every one of us on the dais voted for and would have preferred that these matters be investigated” by an independent, bipartisan commission, she added. While 35 House Republicans supported legislation to create such an inquiry into the riot, Senate Republicans blocked it from passage.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, said he was “more afraid” on Jan. 6 than he was during his entire deployment in Iraq. He “didn’t recognize” the rioters on Jan. 6 and was “shocked” to see rioters use the American flag that “they claimed they sought to protect,” he said, wiping away tears from his face.
What officers were subjected to resembled “a medieval battle,” Gonell said. “I could feel myself losing oxygen” and “thinking to myself this is how I’m going to die” as he was crushed by rioters, he added.
Hearing the former president call Jan. 6 a “lovefest,” Gonell later told lawmakers, is “upsetting, it’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior for something that he himself helped to create, this monstrosity.”
“it was an attempted coup” Gonell said. “if it had been another country the united states would have sent help”
D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a mild heart attack and was electrocuted with a taser during the riot, “thought I’d seen it all” during his past work but what he saw on 1/6 was “unlike anything I had ever seen,” describing in stark details his fear that rioters might kill him. His voice briefly climbed to a shout and he slammed a fist on the table before him as he described GOP lawmakers’ “disgraceful” attempt to downplay the siege.
“I remain grateful that no member of Congress had to go through the violent assault” he suffered on Jan. 6, Fanone said, describing the heroism of his fellow officers as “the most inspirational moment” of his life.
Fanone said he thought about using his firearm on attackers, “but I knew that if I did, I would be quickly overwhelmed. And that in their minds would provide them with the justification for killing me, so I instead decided to appeal to any humanity they might have.”
D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a Capitol doorway by rioters he was attempting to repel, told lawmakers that he feared being “lynched” at one point.
“To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag — a symbol of support for law enforcement — more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands an continued to assault us,” Hodges said.
The final law enforcement witness, Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, started his testimony by seeking a moment of silence for the late Brian Sicknick, a fellow officer who died after responding to the insurrection. Lawmakers all bowed their heads in response.
Dunn, who shared the racial slurs rioters hurled at him as a Black man, asked the select panel to review resources available to officers and “consider whether they are sufficient enough” as they recover from Jan. 6.
During his questioning, Kinzinger’s voice frayed with tears as he told the officers that “you guys won” in their battle with the rioters.
“We’re defined by how we come back from bad days,” said Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran. “How we take accountability for that.”
Most House Republicans, having shunned participation in the committee, tried to counter-program the hearing instead.
Standing outside the Capitol, Minority Whip Steve Scalise said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had “canceled” the Republicans she rejected from the committee. House Republicans are trying to take pains to criticize Democrats rather than the officers who responded that day. But other Republicans could derail their efforts.
A group of more firebrand House Republicans including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), were set to hold a press conference outside the Justice Department later Tuesday to protest the treatment of insurrection suspects.
Meanwhile, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, chair of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told GOP colleagues during a Tuesday conference meeting that he has introduced two resolutions that target Pelosi as well as Cheney and Kinzinger.
The first proposal Biggs introduced would institute a rules change that would expel any member of the GOP conference if a House Republican accepted a committee assignment from Democrats. That language is geared toward Cheney and Kinzinger, who agreed to serve on the select panel at Pelosi’s request.
The other Biggs proposal would dislodge Pelosi from the speakership, a move the Freedom Caucus telegraphed last week. Under conference rules, the resolutions will be sent to committee unless they are offered by the GOP leader of a designee of the leader — and both are expected to fail without the support of Republican leadership.
The select panel’s members are still weighing what their next course of action will be. The House leaves for its August recess after this week, so it could be hard for the panel to maintain momentum after lawmakers leave Washington.
But they will still have to resolve thorny questions like whether to call Trump as a witness, let alone other members of Congress who some of the panel’s members see as potential material witnesses to the events of Jan. 6.
Democrats are already predicting they might be able to make investigative inroads. with President Joe Biden’s administration.
Democrats fought bruising court battles with the Trump administration over their ability to enforce congressional subpoenas of administration officials, but now, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a panel member who spearheaded many of Democrats’ investigations into Trump, said “it’s a different situation” with the Biden administration. The Department of Justice notified former Trump administration officials Tuesday they could testify before the various committees investigating the attack.
Olivia Beavers, Maeve Sheehey and Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.