By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The hearings on the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters will spotlight testimony by the former president’s top aides and family as a congressional committee seeks to show that the riot was, as its chairman put it, a “conspiracy to thwart the will […]
Capitol riot hearings to argue that U.S. democracy at risk
By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The hearings on the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters will spotlight testimony by the former president’s top aides and family as a congressional committee seeks to show that the riot was, as its chairman put it, a “conspiracy to thwart the will of the people.”
After almost a year of investigation, the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack enters a new phase on Thursday with a prime-time hearing that will include videotaped testimony from senior Trump White House officials and campaign officials, committee aides said.
The hearing is scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT (2400 GMT).
“Jan. 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk,” Democratic U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, said in excerpts of his opening statement released ahead of the hearing.
“The conspiracy to thwart the will of the people is not over,” Thompson added. “There are those in this country who thirst for power but have no love or respect for what makes America great: devotion to the Constitution, allegiance to the rule of law, our shared journey to build a more perfect union.”
Since leaving office last year, Trump has kept up his false claims that his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud, an assertion that has been rejected by multiple courts, state election officials and members of his own administration.
Close Trump associates who have spoken to the committee include his son Donald Jr., daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Attorney General William Barr and senior aides to former Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, in a Thursday statement dismissed the committee as “political Thugs.”
The hearing will feature two in-person witnesses, U.S. Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who sustained a traumatic brain injury in the attack, and Nick Quested, a filmmaker who captured footage of the far-right Proud Boys group, accused of planning the deadly attack.
A total of six hearings are expected this month as the Democratic-led committee attempts to reverse Republican efforts to downplay or deny the violence of the attack, with five months to go until the Nov. 8 midterm elections that will determine which party controls both the House and the Senate for the following two years.
The pro-Trump mob sought to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, attacking police and causing millions of dollars in damage. 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 committee wants to make the case not just that Jan. 6 was planned with the cooperation of members of Trump’s inner circle, but that there is an ongoing threat to U.S. democracy.
“As I said, when it was occurring and subsequent, I think, a clear, flagrant violation of the Constitution,” Biden told reporters on Thursday. “I think these guys and women broke the law, tried to turn around the result of an election.
VIEWED THROUGH PARTISAN LENS
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday underscored the partisan lens through which many Americans view the assault.
About 55% of Republicans believe the false claim that left-wing protesters led the attack, and 58% said they believed most of the protesters were law abiding.
A Republican candidate for Michigan governor was arrested on Thursday on misdemeanor charges related to his participation in the Jan. 6 riot.
Two Republican Georgia state election officials that Trump tried to pressure to “find” votes that would overturn his election defeat will testify to the hearings later this month, a source familiar said.
The major TV networks NBC, CBS and ABC plan to air the hearing live, but Fox News, a favorite of Trump’s supporters, will not carry it on its main channel.
There are two Republican members on the committee, Representatives Liz Cheney, its vice chair, and Adam Kinzinger.
Some congressional Republicans condemned Trump in the first days after the attack, but since then almost all have shifted their tone.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called the committee a “smokescreen” for Democrats to push dramatic changes to voting laws. “It is the most political and least legitimate committee in American history,” he said.
When Republicans controlled Congress, there were at least 10 investigations of the 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in which four people died. The probes and hearings lasted over much of the next four years and were used as a political cudgel against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she unsuccessfully ran for president against Trump.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Linda So, Trevor Hunnicutt Kanishka Singh and Jason Lange; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone, Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)