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Police Are The First To Testify At Jan. 6 House Select Committee Hearing

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is holding its first hearing today to hear from four police officers who defended the Capitol that day.

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AQUILINO GONELL: But on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than my entire deployment to Iraq.

MICHAEL FANONE: I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist or that hell actually wasn't that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.

MCCAMMON: That's emotional testimony today from Officer Aquilino Gonell of the Capitol Police and Michael Fanone with the D.C. Metropolitan Police. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following this today and joins us now. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So what have we been hearing so far today?

GRISALES: So we're hearing from this nine-member panel for the first time. That's seven Democrats and two Republicans - that's Wyoming's Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois - all of whom were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Chairman Bennie Thompson started the hearing reflecting on what officers faced in a graphic video that included some of those harrowing moments of the day. Let's take a listen.

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BENNIE THOMPSON: You held the line that day. I can't overstate what was on the line - our democracy. You held the line.

GRISALES: That was followed by a powerful statement from Cheney, where she remarked that members are charged with getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6, and doesn't want to see this replayed every four years. Let's take a listen.

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LIZ CHENEY: If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic.

GRISALES: And we've heard from the officers you mentioned, Fanone at the top there, along with Aquilino Gonell. They had very dramatic testimony along with two other officers. This is Daniel Hodges with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and Harry Dunn with Capitol Police. And for his part, Dunn said that he was repeatedly racially abused that day along with other Black cops. And he shared some very graphic moments from that day. And he and others shared a theme that for many people, January 6 only lasted a few hours, but for them, they are still in the thick of it. It has not ended. And they're sharing these powerful, compelling points of view of what it was like to come face-to-face with these rioters and also feeling like they were on the verge of death.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, Republican Leader McCarthy and other Republicans who are boycotting all of this today led their own counterprogramming efforts. What did we hear there?

GRISALES: Right. McCarthy had pulled his five picks for the committee after two were blocked by Pelosi. All of these members and leaders spoke this morning, and they slammed Pelosi and Democrats. Let's take a listen to McCarthy's remarks.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: If you want the true answers, do not be afraid of the questions that will get asked. And drive the evidence to wherever it comes forward. We owe it to the officers. We owe it to the nation to have an open and fair debate with all questions being asked.

GRISALES: But it's possible this committee's efforts will eclipse Republicans' boycott, maybe even give the public the impression this is a bipartisan panel with the two Republicans - Cheney and Kinzinger - already taking part.

MCCAMMON: And, Claudia, this is just the committee getting started here. What happens next?

GRISALES: Well, they got a big signal today that it's full speed ahead. The Justice Department said there is a clear path for Trump officials to testify in Congress about the riot and the events that preceded it. Our justice reporter, Carrie Johnson, tells us the department notified former officials that it consulted the White House counsel's office and said it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege. This is a shield used by former Trump officials to avoid testifying before Congress. And this is also something that a member on the panel - this is Adam Schiff, a Democrat for California - signaled to reporters yesterday, saying they expect a smoother effort to calling these relevant witnesses, including former Trump officials, as well as getting the documents they need from relevant agencies.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks so much for your reporting today.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.