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Emotions run high among witnesses, lawmakers during first day of testimony before Jan. 6 committee

House members including Kinzinger and Schiff were choked up over emotional testimony from police officers who tried to stop breach.

Updated: July 27, 2021 - 5:38pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

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The first day of testimony Tuesday before the House select committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was marked by emotional testimony from four law enforcement officers – two members of the U.S. Capitol Police and two from the Metropolitan Police Department. 

"This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance," said Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell.

Gonell told the eight-member House panel he could feel himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by rioters as he tried to hold them back and protect the Capitol and lawmakers, according to the Associated Press

The strain of holding back tears was plain on the faces of each officer, as well as several members of the panel, including Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, as the officers described the events of of Jan. 6, when as many as 800 people reportedly entered the Capitol building.

"I never expected today to be quite as emotional for me as it has been," Kinzinger said. "I'm a Republican, I'm a conservative. It's time to stop the outrage and the conspiracies ... we need to reject those who promote it." 

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told panel members he might hold another hearing during their scheduled August recess. 

"I put some members on notice that they won't enjoy the entire August recess, but we will give them time to work in their districts ... conceivably, we could come back before the end of August," Thompson said at the conclusion of the inaugural hearing.

Testimony and Questioning

The four officers were given a chance, following opening statements from Thompson and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, to deliver first hand accounts of what they experienced on January 6 while defending the Capitol complex. 

Gonell, the first member of law enforcement to testify, became visibly emotional as he described finding out that his wife and family had frantically been texting and calling him throughout the day, attempting to check in on his wellbeing. 

When asked by Cheney how he felt hearing former President Trump describe there being a "lot of love" in the Jan. 6 crowd of his supporters just prior to the Capitol attack, Sgt. Gonell said, "If those are hugs and kissed, we all should go to his house and do the same things to him." 

Several minutes later, Gonell apologized for his "outburst," saying he did not mean to imply that people should literally go to Trump's place of residence.

Officer Daniel Hodges, who repeatedly referred to the Capitol breachers as "terrorists," defended his language, saying "I can see why someone would take issue with the title of terrorist. It's gained a lot of notoriety in our vocabulary in the past few decades, and we like to believe, 'No, that can't happen here, no domestic terrorism, no homegrown threats." He then read from the U.S. Code Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 113B, Section 2331, which defines terrorism as:

"Acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

He went on to urge the panel of lawmakers to get the bottom of whether "anyone in power had a role in this."

"If anyone in power coordinated, or aided or abetted, or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack, because we can't do," he said, responding to a question about what the officers expect the committee to accomplish.

"To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 or the United States they claimed to represent," said Hodges, who argued that the attack was pre-planned and not a spontaneous riot.

Officer Harry Dunn, a 13-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, described the racial slurs he endured throughout the day on January 6. Specifically, Dunn said it was the first time he was ever called the n-word while wearing his uniform. 

Dunn said it is "disheartening that we live in a country with people like that, who attack you based on the color of your skin. Those words are weapons."

Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, asked Dunn whether he believes the racial epithets he faced were representative of America at large.

Dunn replied, "I guess, it sounds silly but I guess it is American. But it's not the side of America that I like. It's not the side that any of us here represent."

The Members

Thompson opened the morning with a dramatic statement claiming that a "peaceful transfer of power did not happen." 

Cheney, who along with Kinzinger are the only Republicans on the panel, then said that no member of Congress should "defend the indefensible," adding that "our children are watching," and will know which side of history was right.

At a press conference prior to the hearing, senior members of the House GOP conference, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, praised officers who protected the Capitol but accused Speaker Pelosi of heading into the hearing with a predetermined set of conclusions.

McCarthy and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik, of New York, blamed Pelosi for failing to properly address security concerns at the Capitol ahead of the breach. 

McCarthy earlier announced that he would boycott the committee following Pelosi's rejection of two of his selections to sit on the panel – GOP Reps. Jim Banks and Jim Jordan. He has warned his conference that any member who opts to participate in what he is calling a "partisan sham," will potentially face punishment. 

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