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Breaking down yesterday's Jan. 6 hearing


The House committee investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol made its opening arguments on prime-time television last night. The committee, which is chaired by Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, laid out new evidence that former President Donald Trump and his supporters attempted a coup to overturn a legitimate presidential election. Just after the hearing ended, our colleagues Asma Khalid, Deirdre Walsh and Ron Elving offered their insights for the NPR Politics Podcast. We're going to let Asma take it from here.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: At the outset of this nearly two-hour hearing, Congresswoman Liz Cheney from Wyoming spent a good amount of time just laying out the narrative. She was attempting to show that President Trump and most of his senior aides actively precipitated and encouraged the rally at the Capitol and waited hours and hours and hours to encourage the pro-Trump extremists who broke into the Capitol building to leave.


LIZ CHENEY: On this point, there is no room for debate. Those who invaded our Capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them, that the election was stolen and that he was the rightful president.

KHALID: Then the committee showed an 11-minute film with footage of the insurrection on January 6. And after a short break, the committee then heard from two witnesses, a documentary filmmaker named Nick Quested and a Capitol Police officer who was injured during the riots, Caroline Edwards. Edwards described part of what she experienced in pretty raw detail.


CAROLINE EDWARDS: What I saw was just a war scene. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground, bleeding. They were throwing up. They were - you know, they had - I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood.

KHALID: After the hearing wrapped up for the evening, Edwards was seen embracing Sandra Garza, the partner of Brian Sicknick, who was the Capitol Police officer who died on January 7 following the insurrection. And, Deirdre, I want to begin with you. I mean, what did you see as the goal of this committee coming into tonight's hearings?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: They've been saying that they wanted this to be their opening argument. And I think what they were trying to do was remind the American public what happened that day and just how violent it was, and also about sort of how coordinated it was. It was a deliberate attempt to sort of bring people viscerally back to feeling how close we came to our democracy being in jeopardy - right? - that these violent protesters wanted to overturn the election and were going after elected leaders, including the vice president, the speaker of the House, and were attacking Capitol Police officers. I mean, I think the question for me is, was it enough to keep people interested for the remaining five hearings? I think that's an open question.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Yes. But we need to remember, too, that the next four of these sessions, at least tentatively, are scheduled to begin at 10 o'clock in the morning. So it's going to be a somewhat different kind of atmosphere. Obviously, high points will be available for people to look at. But it won't have nationally the same kind of impact as tonight. The key for this committee, I think they've decided, is for them to persist and to penetrate. They think they can get through the shell that has clearly grown over this incident since January 6 and all the other things that people have been dealing with the past couple of years. They think they still can drill through that.

KHALID: Deirdre, you were getting at this a bit earlier. But I recognize maybe it is a premature question because you say you don't know how this will play out in subsequent hearings. But do you feel, at least for tonight, that the committee was able to succeed in conveying what it was trying to do?

WALSH: I do. I mean, I think some members of the committee were sort of raising expectations, promising bombshells. I don't think they had those. But they really had a very effective narrative. I think especially Vice Chair Liz Cheney did a really good job at sort of laying out what was coming and teasing some really interesting on-the-record, on-camera comments from Trump's inner circle. I mean, to me, seeing Ivanka Trump, the president's own daughter, saying on camera that she agreed with Attorney General Bill Barr's pushback to the president that there was no election fraud...


IVANKA TRUMP: It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr, so I accepted what he was saying.

ELVING: I think we can all have a certain amount of sympathy or empathy with Ivanka Trump's division here. She has, on the one hand, extraordinary loyalty to her father. And on the other hand, she seems to be aware of the facts. And she knows that the facts contradict her father. So on the one hand, she was the truth. In the presence of her father, she represented the truth. And she would have probably brought that to his attention at some point or another that she believed Bill Barr. On the other hand, she also accompanied him on the day of January 6 before he spoke to the crowd on the Ellipse. She had not separated herself from him at all. And then later on in the afternoon, she played the role of begging him, as many others in the White House did, begging him to call off those protesters.

WALSH: I think the other thing that the hearing did a good job of was sort of taking you back in the lead up to January 6 and using people, close Trump advisers like Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller. There was a Trump campaign lawyer who told the committee in these on-camera depositions that they presented the president with data in November that there wasn't there there for him to contest the election. The results were that he lost. And there wasn't anything for them to do to push back. Using the president's own senior advisers to tell the story about how they were telling the president that he couldn't contest the election, it was just sort of an interesting way of letting them speak for what was going on around the president instead of having, you know, Bennie Thompson say it.

KHALID: There was a clear sense that committee members wanted to show, not just tell people what was being said. And, you know, there's this moment where you hear from some of the rioters who were there on January 6 saying that they were there because Donald Trump told them to be.


ROBERT SCHORNACK: What really made me want to come was the fact that, you know, I had supported Trump all that time. I did believe, you know, that the election was being stolen. And Trump asked us to come.


ERIC BARBER: He personally asked for us to come to D.C. that day. And I thought, for everything he's done for us, if this is the only thing he's going to ask of me, I'll do it.

KHALID: Two men, Robert Schornack and Eric Barber.

ELVING: This is a big, big part of what the committee is trying to establish, that what happened on January 6 was not in any sense spontaneous, but that Donald Trump had summoned this mob to Washington and then incited them and then unleashed them on the Capitol. That's what they're trying to show.

MARTIN: Senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving and congressional editor Deirdre Walsh speaking to White House correspondent Asma Khalid for the NPR Politics Podcast. The select House committee investigating January 6 plans five more televised hearings. The next one is Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "GOLDEN HILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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