Jan. 6 committee debuts hearings with video testimony from Trump’s inner circle, new riot footage

"The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system," Rep. Thompson says during primetime Jan. 6 hearing
Rep. Liz Cheney

The Democrat-led committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on Thursday night, in its debut hearing, showed video depositions from members of former President Trump’s inner circle and heard accusations from top panel members about a "conspiracy" to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election – reminiscent of the chamber's second presidential impeachment trial. 

Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's co-chairperson, previewed what viewers would see that night and in scheduled, upcoming hearings. She acknowledged that there were security failures ahead of the riot taking place.

"As part of our investigation, we will present information about what the White House and other intelligence agencies knew, and why the Capitol was not better prepared," Cheney said in her opening statement. "But we will not lose sight of the fact that the Capitol Police did not cause the crowd to attack. And we will not blame the violence that day, violence provoked by Donald Trump, on the officers who bravely defended all of us."

Cheney, in the primetime TV hearing, attempted to warn Republican colleagues who still support Trump that "there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain."

She said the committee plans to reveal details about members of Trump's administration considering after the riot "invoking the 25th Amendment," which addresses the removal of a president. 

"You will hear that leaders on Capitol Hill begged the president for help, including [House] Republican leader [Kevin] McCarthy who was quote, 'scared,' and called multiple members of President Trump's family, after he could not persuade the president himself," Cheney also said.

The House voted Jan. 13, 2021, along party lines to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection against the federal government at the Capitol.

The essential argument Thursday night by Cheney and Mississippi Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chairman, was that protesters entered the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop Congress' certification of the presidential results, giving the victory to Democrat Joe Biden.

In video clips, former Attorney General Bill Barr says he didn't see widespread fraud or issues with voting machines affecting the 2020 presidential election vote count, which Trump has challenged over concerns of voting fraud.

Cheney introduced a video of Ivanka Trump, the former president's daughter and an ex-Trump White House adviser, saying she respected Barr's assessment in his recorded testimony, played at the start of the hearing. 

In another videotaped testimony, introduced by Cheney in the two-hour hearing, Jason Miller, a former Trump adviser, said the Trump campaign's lead data analyst told the president he was going to lose the election.

"I remember he delivered to the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose," Miller said. 

Thompson, of Mississippi, began the hearing by saying rioters who tried that day to stop the peaceful transfer of power acted with "the encouragement" of the former president.

"The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system," Thompson said. "It was not because of voter fraud."

Thompson said Trump was at the center of "this conspiracy" and that Jan. 6 was the result of an “attempted coup.”  

Thompson addressed criticism that the public hearings are a political attack on Trump, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.  

“My colleagues and I all wanted an outside independent commission to investigate Jan. 6, similar to what we had after 9-11,” he said. “Donald Trump’s allies in Congress put a stop to it.”  

The committee played never-before-seen footage of the riot that included a man who breached the Capitol saying, “Whatever it takes. I'll lay my life down, if it takes.”

The committee and others also heard testimony and responses to Thompson and Cheney's questions from U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who received a brain injury during the riot. Edwards said she gave “literal blood, sweat and tears” while defending the Capitol.

She described the West Front of the Capitol as a “war zone” on that day.