Spotlight on Trump supporters' assault on U.S. Capitol as Jan. 6 hearings begin

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FILE PHOTO: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress's probe of the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters trying to overturn his election defeat enters a new phase this week with hearings meant to refocus attention on the violence and those who planned it.

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Jan. 6 will attempt to reverse Republican efforts to downplay or deny the violence of the day, with five months to go until Nov. 8 midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress for the next two years.

"This was a coup organized by the president against the vice president and against the Congress in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election," Representative Jamie Raskin, one of the Democratic members of the nine-member committee, said in a recent interview.

"We're going to tell the whole story of everything that happened. There was a violent insurrection and an attempted coup and we were saved by (then-Vice President) Mike Pence's refusal to go along with that plan," Raskin said.

The panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans has spent much of the past year investigating the events preceding and driving the attack by thousands of Trump loyalists, who stormed the building in a failed bid to prevent Congress from formally certifying his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

The committee has not yet said what witnesses it will call at its Thursday 8 p.m. ET (0000 GMT June 10) hearing, a prime time spot intended to capture the attention of as many Americans as possible. ABC and CBS News programming schedules showed that the networks planned to carry Thursday's hearing live.

Five more hearings are expected in the next two weeks.

The committee said in a statement the hearings would "provide the American people a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power."

"It will be a combination of exhibits, staff testimony, outside witnesses," the committee's chairperson, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, recently told reporters.

Prospects for success are not clear, in a deeply divided country. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found that only 40% of Americans believe the committee is conducting a "fair and impartial" investigation of the attack, while 40% say it is not.

Many Americans are simply not paying attention, more worried about inflation, a spate of mass shootings and summer vacations than an attack 18 months ago.

CLOSED DOORS, SHIFTING NARRATIVE

The panel and its dozens of investigators have conducted more than 1,000 depositions and interviews and collected more than 140,000 documents.

The investigation has focused on efforts by Trump and associates to promote his false election claims, with committee members contending that the fate of American democracy is at stake.

"People are going to be absolutely surprised how much was known," Denver Riggleman, a Republican former congressman who worked as an adviser to the committee said on CNN on Sunday. "When you look at the totality of the evidence, it's pretty apparent that at some point President Trump knew what was going on."

Some congressional Republicans condemned Trump in the first days after the attack, but since then almost all of shifted their tone. Members of Congress have refused to cooperate and disputed accounts of the riot, despite thousands of photographs and videos.

Republican Representative Andrew Clyde, who helped barricade the doors of the House chamber against the mob, said the Trump supporters who stormed the building behaved "in an orderly fashion."

The Republican National Committee called the assault "legitimate political discourse."

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide. The Capitol sustained millions of dollars in damage.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political attack. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, the panel's Republican vice chairperson, as she runs for re-election.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, the panel's other Republican member, is retiring from Congress.

Every Republican House leader voted to overturn 2020 election results in the hours after the riot. Cheney - the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney - was removed from Republican leadership for criticizing Trump.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who refused to comply with a committee subpoena, called the committee invalid, for reasons including having too few members and lacking a formal Republican "ranking member."

The June sessions will not be the committee's first public hearings. The panel held one last July, at which police officers described being beaten, threatened and taunted with racial insults as they faced the worst attack on the seat of the U.S. government in more than two centuries.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone)

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