Democracy ‘at Risk,’ Probe Chairman Says, Opening Polarizing Public Hearing on Jan. 6

Democracy 'at Risk,' Probe Chairman Says, Opening Polarizing Public Hearing on Jan. 6 Democracy 'at Risk,' Probe Chairman Says, Opening Polarizing Public Hearing on Jan. 6 (AP)

LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and FARNOUSH AMIRI Thursday, 09 June 2022 08:07 PM

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol breach and Donald Trump's alleged role in it opened Thursday's prime-time hearing declaring that election lies led to the deadly attack and put "two and half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said “the world is watching” the U.S. response to the panel's yearlong investigation into the Capitol riot and the extraordinary effort by many protesters on that day in 2021 to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election victory over Trump.

“America has long been expected to be a shining city on a hill. A beacon of hope and freedom,” Thompson said. "How can we play that role when our own house is in such disorder? We must confront the truth with candor, resolve and determination.”

The committee was presenting what it billed as never-before-seen video and a mass of other evidence, aiming to show the “harrowing story” of the violence that day and suggest a chilling backstory: that Trump, the defeated president, tried to overturn Biden's election victory.

There was no plan for any cross-examination or countering testimony, which drew the ire of many who insist the entire inquiry is a partisan exercise.

Trump and allies have dismissed the inquiry and Thursday's hearings as a politically biased smear aimed at savaging the ex-president in particular and spoiling his potential bid to run again in 2024.

In his latest comments, Trump preemptively dismissed the investigation anew earlier in the day, declaring on social media that Jan. 6 “represented the greatest movement in the history of our country.”

Onetime Trump attorney general Matt Whitaker told Newsmax Thursday night, during its coverage of the hearing, that the highly publicized public event amounted to campaign fundraising for the Dems.

He said: "This is not the system working. This is the Democrats trying to score political points to curry their favor."

Thursday night's hearing was providing eyewitness testimony from the first police officer pummeled in the riot and from a documentary filmmaker who tracked the extremist Proud Boys during the riot.

The hearing also featured accounts from Trump aides and family members, interviewed behind closed doors.

“When you hear and understand the wide-reaching conspiracy and the effort to try to corrupt every lever and agency of government involved in this, you know, the hair on the back of your neck should stand up," Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a member of the 1/6 committee, said in a pre-hearing interview.

The 1/6 panel's findings aim to show that America’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power came close to slipping away.

Biden, in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, said many viewers were "going to be seeing for the first time a lot of the detail that occurred.”

“I think it was a clear, flagrant violation of the Constitution,” he said.

The result of the coming weeks of public hearings may not change hearts or minds in politically polarized America. But the committee's investigation with 1,000 interviews is intended to stand as a public record for history, its proponents insist, waving off claims of partisanship. A final report aims to provide an accounting of the most violent attack on the Capitol since the British set fire to it in 1814, and to ensure such an attack never happens again.

The riot left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol. At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police.

Emotions are still raw at the Capitol, and security will be tight for the hearings. Law enforcement officials are reporting a spike in violent threats against members of Congress.

The committee chairman, civil rights leader Thompson, and vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, outlined what the committee has learned about the events leading up to that brisk January day when, they say, Trump sent his supporters to Congress to “fight like hell” for his presidency as lawmakers undertook the typically routine job of certifying the previous November's results.

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