Jurisprudence

The First Reality-Based Congressional Oversight Hearing in Years

Jim Jordan’s absence allowed the Jan. 6 House select committee to actually do its job.

In his officer uniform, Fanone raises his right hand to swear to tell the truth.
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone is sworn in at the Capitol on Tuesday before testifying to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the House select committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6 held its first hearing. Four police officers who came under assault that day acted as opening witnesses, delivering testimony so powerful that even Republican opponents of the committee had to admit it was “compelling and gut-wrenching.”

The committee heard extraordinary details of what it was like for the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers on the front lines of that assault, accompanied by first-person camera footage of the near-murderous violence these officers endured. As Metro Police Officer Michael Fanone described in his extraordinary opening statement, he was overwhelmed by the Jan. 6 rioters and repeatedly electrocuted with Tasers. He believed he might be killed with his own gun after hearing chants of “kill him with his own gun.” He described begging for his life before suffering a heart attack and losing consciousness:

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The committee also heard from Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, testifying about his own near-death experience:

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It heard from Metro Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who described being crushed by “terrorists” while trying to hold an entryway to the Capitol on Jan. 6:

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And it heard from Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, testifying about the racist abuse he experienced during the attack, the first time anyone had used the N-word toward him while he was in uniform:

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The testimony was punctuated by sober and at times incisive questioning from members of the committee, including from Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who are the only GOP members on the panel. (House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declined to seat others after two of his selections, Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, were rejected by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi due to their past statements undermining the significance of the attack.) During the hearing, one couldn’t help but wonder what those rejected committee members might have said in response to the brutal testimony from the officers. At the same time, because they were not there, it was actually possible for everyone assembled to focus on the horrific stories that Dunn, Hodges, Gonell, and Fanone were sharing. There was no deranged counternarrative being interjected every five minutes.

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Indeed, after 3½ years of covering Democratic oversight efforts since Democrats took back control of the House majority at the start of 2019, I can honestly say that this is the first and only time I can remember witnessing a hearing into misconduct perpetrated by Trump and his minions that maintained its presence in objective reality the whole time. (While the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings during Donald Trump’s first impeachment were illuminating and powerful, they were consistently derailed by partisan nonsense.)

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Instead of the usual circus, Tuesday’s hearing was four consecutive hours of clean fact-finding and emotionally constructive first-person witnessing to the horrors of Jan. 6. This was possible only because Jordan (and to a lesser extent Banks) was kept off of the panel. Jordan has previously found enormous success as an oversight arsonist on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee, and on the House Intelligence Committee during impeachment. I know Jordan would have derailed any fact-finding effort into Jan. 6 because he already announced how he would have done it had he been allowed to participate during a press conference with Republican House leadership on the Capitol steps on Tuesday.

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At that press conference, Jordan declared that he was uninterested in who perpetrated the attacks, who organized the events that led to the insurrection, and whether the former president actually abetted the violence that he had incited by failing to order a timely National Guard response. Instead, for Jordan, the “fundamental question” of Jan. 6 that needs answering was whether or not Democratic leadership had failed to prepare enough for that day’s unprecedented assault on the Capitol because “it was all driven by what happened last summer where Democrats normalized anarchy, normalized political violence, raised bail money for the very rioters and looters who destroyed small businesses, attacked innocent civilians, and maybe most importantly attacked police officers.” With that, Jordan told us what he would have done had he been on the committee: make a false equivalence between the violent attempted overthrow of the U.S. government on Jan. 6 and some of the violence that occurred during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, and distract from the entire endeavor by blaming Democrats. This is precisely the line he has taken at previous attempted oversight hearings surrounding the events of Jan. 6. There are many, many examples of this:

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• During a Feb. 24 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on “The Rise of Domestic Terrorism in America,” Jordan invited conservative journalist Andy Ngo to testify about Black Lives Matter protests and spent his entire questioning blaming Democrats for failing to “condemn the violence going on in Portland and other big cities.”

• During a March 11 hearing on House member conduct related in part to House member actions surrounding Jan. 6, Jordan said the hearing should be about “cancel culture” and the “border crisis” instead. “It’s time that the Judiciary Committee did its job and focus on the issues that matter to the American people like the border crisis and like the cancel culture attack on the First Amendment,” he said.

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• Most blatantly, during a June 15 House Oversight Committee hearing to interview FBI Director Christopher Wray specifically about the Jan 6. attack, Jordan complained that the hearing was even taking place and demanded a “border crisis” hearing instead. As for the panel’s revelations that Trump White House aides had tried to pressure the Department of Justice to take action to reverse the election—another potential topic of inquiry for the Jan. 6 commission—Jordan was downright disgusted. “Wow. The taxpayers are going to love the work that we’re going to do with this,” he said in characteristically melodramatic fashion.

Tuesday’s hearing was much different from these previous efforts to examine Jan. 6 because, rather than being constantly interrupted and misdirected, the victims of the Jan. 6 attack were able to talk about their desperation to see some accountability for the perpetrators of the attack and for those who, in the words of Gonell, “egged” them on. Fanone pounded on the table in fury at the “members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so betray their oath of office.”

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Dunn, meanwhile, came up with an incredibly powerful metaphor that demonstrated the need for accountability not just for the perpetrators of Jan. 6, but for those who aimed them at the Capitol that day:

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McCarthy didn’t have to surrender his seats on the commission after Jordan was rejected. He did it because he wanted to portray the select committee as a partisan endeavor—even though Republicans voted down a nonpartisan committee and even though there are two Republicans on this panel—and the result is that House Democrats have their first chance at an actual fact-finding operation to uncover the truth about one of the worst high crimes of the Trump presidency.

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After the hearing, it was reported that the select committee appeared poised to take full advantage of this opportunity. Chairman Bennie Thompson promised he would not request testimony from potentially combative witnesses, but instead go straight to subpoenaing them, which the Department of Justice conveniently on Tuesday cleared the way for Congress to do. If Democrats actually go through with subpoenas for figures at the center of the White House storm on Jan. 6, as Republican Liz Cheney has requested, it will be the first time Democrats are actually able to pry loose new testimony on Trump’s abuses from recalcitrant members of his own administration. They have Kevin McCarthy to thank for this gift.

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