Police testify as US Capitol riot probe begins
A congressional inquiry into the US Capitol insurrection of January 6 kicked off Tuesday with powerful testimony from police officers assaulted during the violent riot by supporters of Donald Trump, delivered in a deeply polarized Washington.
WASHINGTON: A congressional inquiry into the US Capitol insurrection of Jan 6 kicked off Tuesday (Jul 27) with powerful testimony from police officers assaulted during the violent riot by supporters of Donald Trump, delivered in a deeply polarised Washington.
Six months after hundreds of Trump's supporters stormed the seat of American democracy in the worst attack on the legislature since the War of 1812, the work of the select committee investigating the assault has become a major political flashpoint.
"A violent mob was pointed toward the Capitol and told to win a trial by combat. Some descended on this city with clear plans to disrupt our democracy," the panel's Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, said in an opening statement.
"We know there is evidence of a coordinated planned attack. We know that the men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country," he said.
He vowed the committee would be "guided solely by the facts," adding "there's no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation."
Lawmakers were to hear first-hand accounts from police attacked by rioters who fought their way into the building, hunted for the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, and sought to block certification of Joe Biden's November presidential election victory.
During Thompson's opening statement the committee was shown video of graphic battle scenes on the Capitol steps between rioters and outnumbered police officers, and insurgents breaking through windows and storming the halls of Congress chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" and asking "Where's Nancy?"
"We are still taking metal, sharpened objects, missiles, to include bottles and rocks and hand-thrown chemical grade fireworks," one besieged officer is heard telling a supervisor over police radio.
Four police officers were to testify at the hearing which began at 1.30pm GMT, including Washington officer Michael Fanone, who was stun-gunned and beaten by rioters.
Fanone, who suffered a heart attack during the mayhem, has told US media that the clashes amounted to "the most brutal, savage hand-to-hand combat" of his life.
Also testifying is US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who has spoken of racial epithets hurled at him and other police by rioters, many of whom were associated with ultra-nationalist and white supremacist groups.
Five people died during or shortly after the insurrection, while dozens of police were injured.
Trump has dismissed the probe as "a fake and highly partisan" and attempted to blame Pelosi for allegedly failing to protect the Capitol from his supporters.
Republicans held a press conference early Tuesday in which, without offering evidence, they also pointed the finger at Pelosi, accusations which she swiftly dismissed.
"Now that the bipartisan Select Committee is beginning its work, the only tools left in House Republicans' arsenal are deflection, distortion, and disinformation," she said in a statement.
House Republican leadership has essentially boycotted the select committee, pulling its five appointments last week after Pelosi took unprecedented action by rejecting two of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's picks.
Instead of leaving the panel with just Democrats, Pelosi unilaterally named two Republicans: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Both are forceful Trump critics who voted for his impeachment in January, and both have drawn GOP censure for refusing to back Trump's baseless claims that the election was stolen.
Pelosi and others had wanted a bipartisan, independent 9/11 commission-style panel to investigate the riot and its origins. Even McCarthy in January voiced support.
But with anxiety growing among Republicans concerned that a January 6 probe could prove politically damaging for their party ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the party began coalescing against a deep dive.
Senate Republicans in May blocked the commission, arguing that multiple investigations have already reached conclusions about the riot and hundreds of arrests have yielded considerable data about what happened.
Cheney, who has been sidelined in her party by her refusal to back Trump's election claims, spoke after Thompson Tuesday and attempted to seize the center ground again.
"Almost all members of my party recognise the events of that day for what they actually were," she said.
"No member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible," she said.
The causes of the riot cannot be left uninvestigated, she said - including "every minute of that day in the White House."