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WASHINGTON – The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection held its first public hearing Tuesday, vowing to get to the bottom of the attack and recounting the horrific abuse police officers suffered when they fought off the mob.
The nearly four-hour hearing offered a harrowing account of officers beaten unconscious, tear-gassed, taunted with racial epithets and attacked with the American flag by protesters who were spurred by former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election.
The committee will be “guided solely by the facts,” committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening statements, flanked by Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel.
Recounting the moments of that day drew emotion not only from the officers but from the committee members. During the hearing, some lawmakers played footage of the insurrection, which at times left lawmakers visibly upset, with some some breaking down into tears.
'This is how I'm going to die': At Jan. 6 hearing, officers tell of harrowing attacks
Here are some of the top takeaways from the committee's hearing:
Officers recount mob violence, near-death experiences
During their testimonies, officers recounted stories where they were physically assaulted and harassed by the attacking mob. D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges at one point described a brawl with a rioter where he was assaulted with a blunt object.
"A man attempted to rip the baton from my hands and we wrestled for control. I retained my weapon. After I pushed him back, he yelled at me, 'You're on the wrong team!' ... another [shouted], 'You will die on your knees!' " Hodges testified.
"The mob of terrorists were shouting 'Heave, ho' and they pushed their way forward. A man in front of me grabbed my baton ... he bashed me in the face and head with it ... I did the only thing I could do and screamed for help," he continued.
Another officer, Michael Fanone of the Metropolitan Police Department, recounted being dragged by the mob and beaten so badly that doctors would later diagnose him as having experienced a heart attack, post-traumatic stress disorder and a concussion.
“As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized a munition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and what felt like hard metal objects," Fanone said.
He also noted that one rioter yelled, “Get his gun! Kill him with own weapon!” after which rioters began pulling for his firearm. Fanone, being beaten, yelled at the top of his lungs “I have kids!” in a plea for his life. Eventually, some rioters pulled Fanone back to law enforcement.
Officers of color recall racism, slurs against them
Officers of color also experienced a particular type of horror during the Capitol attack.
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told lawmakers that every officer that day "fought a different battle but it was all part of the same war" and that "officers of color fought our own slightly different battle" in experiencing racism individually as well as the broader racist sentiment of the assault on the Capitol.
Dunn recounted how rioters chanting "Stop to steal!" called him racial slurs as they stormed the Capitol. When Dunn said he’d voted for Joe Biden, a woman responded with racist epithets.
“You hear that, guys, this (N-word) voted for Joe Biden!" the woman in a "pink MAGA shirt" yelled, Dunn said.
Jan. 6 committee: Officers ask lawmakers to 'get to the bottom' of Jan. 6 Capitol riot
"No one had ever called me a (N-word) while wearing my Capitol Police uniform. That streak ended on Jan. 6,” Dunn testified.
Gonell, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, also testified that when rioters saw his skin color through his uniform and mask, they exclaimed, "You're not an American.”
Hodges, who is white, by contrast recalled an experience where rioters were angry he was attempting to stop them from advancing. One rioter asked him, “Are you my brother?” in an attempt to recruit him, Hodges said.
Lawmakers moved to tears by testimony, fret over democratic fragility
At times, lawmakers became overwhelmed by the testimony. Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., both became visibly emotional when questioning the four police witnesses.
“You guys all talk about the effects you have to deal with and, you know, you talk about the impact of that day,” Kinzinger said as he choked up.
Schiff closed his questioning of the witnesses by reflecting on youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem during Biden’s inauguration.
“I'd like to think, as Amanda Gorman so eloquently said, that we're not broken, we're just unfinished. Because if we're no longer committed to a peaceful transfer of power after our elections, if our side doesn't win, then God help us,” Schiff said.
“And we’re so driven by bigotry and hate that we attack our fellow citizens as traitors if they're born in another country where they don't look like us,” Schiff said before a long pause, continuing, “then God help us.”
After Schiff also became emotional, he said, “It must be an Adam thing today."
Liz Cheney takes center stage
Cheney also took a high-profile role in the committee's first day, giving opening remarks directly after Thompson in which she made a case for the importance of the Jan. 6 select committee.
"We cannot leave the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes uninvestigated," Cheney said, cautioning that to not do so would invite a Jan. 6-style riot “every four years.”
The Wyoming Republican accepted a nomination to serve on the panel by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after being ousted from House GOP leadership for her persistent focus on the role that Trump played in inciting violence at the Capitol.
Read Liz Cheney's full statement: Liz Cheney calls for answers, accountability on Jan. 6: 'We must know what happened'
"I have been a conservative Republican since 1984, when I first voted for Ronald Reagan. I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with nearly every Democratic member of this committee. But in the end, we are one nation under God,” Cheney said.
Cheney also offered a hint at what the committee would be probing.
"We must know what happened here at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack,” Cheney urged.
DOJ says Trump officials can testify about president's actions
Outside the halls of Congress, the Justice Department issued a decision that will have major ramifications for later hearings by the select committee.
On Tuesday, the DOJ said it will not assert executive privilege for former Trump administration officials, opening the door for the committee to call on them to testify about their activities during Jan. 6.
The committee is in part investigating whether Trump tried to use the agency to subvert the result of the 2020 presidential election in the weeks leading up to the attack.
The 9 members of the committee: Meet the members of the House's January 6 select committee
The DOJ took the step because the issues under investigation are "exceptional circumstances warranting an accommodation to Congress," according to a letter from Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer.
The decision, which would allow former officials to provide "unrestricted testimony" to two congressional committees, could provide insight into Trump's actions and conversations leading up to Jan. 6.
Contributing: Kristine Phillips
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6 committee starts investigation with emotional police testimony