WASHINGTON — The Democratic chairman of the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, warned the nation Thursday that American democracy remains in peril.
“January 6th and the lies that led to insurrection have put two-and-a-half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk. The world is watching what we do here,” Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the select committee chairman, said in his opening remarks. “But our work must do much more than just look backwards. Because our democracy remains in danger. The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over.”
Members of the House panel who have spent almost a year investigating former President Donald Trump’s election falsehoods, which helped motivate hundreds of his supporters to sack the Capitol 18 months ago, planned to spend the first night of public hearings making the case that Trump was at the center of a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government following his 2020 election loss.
Thompson began the proceedings with a history lesson on the oath of office that members of the federal government take to defend the U.S. constitution against "enemies foreign and domestic." He then quickly made the case that Trump had inspired domestic enemies to carry out their attack on the Capitol, and played video of former Attorney General William Barr describe how he told Trump that his contention that fraud had cost him the 2020 election amounted to "bullsh**."
"January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup," Thompson said, adding, "The violence was no accident, it marks Donald Trump’s last stand."
Committee aides told Yahoo News that the purpose of the first hearing was “connecting the dots” between Trump’s efforts to overturn the will of the voters and the extremist groups who sought to block the peaceful transfer of power.
Trump and his allies, led by top House Republicans, have dubbed the investigation another “partisan witch hunt” akin to two previous Trump impeachments and the investigations into Russia’s efforts to bolster his 2016 campaign for president.
But top Democrats and the Republican members of the select committee, including Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, were confident of their findings heading into the hearings on Thursday night.
The panel has interviewed hundreds of witnesses including some of Trump’s children and former aides and obtained a trove of evidence including thousands of text messages from Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and video footage of the actions of the extreme-right group the Proud Boys to carry out the insurrection.
British filmmaker Nick Quested, who embedded with the Proud Boys through the Jan. 6 attack and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was one of the first victims of assault during the attack, were both set to testify at the hearing.
One of the highlights is expected to be a multimedia package that includes taped interviews with witnesses and new evidence that lawmakers say will prove Trump’s role in trying to overturn the election results.