WASHINGTON — Ally after ally of former President Donald Trump — his eldest daughter, his former attorney general, a former senior campaign aide — admitted to congressional investigators that his claims that the 2020 election were stolen from him were false.
That testimony were just some the revelations during the first day of the Jan. 6 committee hearings, interspersed with shocking, never-before-seen video of the deadly attack and powerful statements from a Capitol Police officer who battled rioters.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I told the president was bullshit,” former Attorney General Bill Barr testified.
The panel says it is building a case that Trump was responsible for the insurrection. "He personally asked us to come to D.C. that day," one person in the mob said in a video played at the end of the hearing, part of a montage of several others who said they were there at the former president's behest.
In one particularly notable moment, video of Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, elicited gasps when he explained how after Vice President Mike Pence called pleading for military help to quash the riot, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, called to ask for help in dispelling the image that Trump was no longer in charge.
New video showed police being brutalized by the mob, airing footage taped by a documentarian that included audio, unlike much of the silent security video aired during Trump's second impeachment proceedings.
“I can remember my breath catching in my throat, because what I saw was a war scene,” Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, one of the first two witnesses called in the hearings, said.
Edwards, who was injured by the rioters, described the scene at the Capitol as "something out of a movie."
“Officers on the ground. They were bleeding, on the ground, throwing up,” she said, adding, "It was carnage. It was chaos."
The footage and testimony left some officers and lawmakers in attendance in tears.
The committee promised details of a seven-point plan that Trump and his allies developed and implemented in a bid to undermine American democracy that culminated in the deadly riot.
"Jan. 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup," Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening statement. "A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after Jan. 6th, 'to overthrow the government.' The violence was no accident. It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power."
The committee has tried for months to keep a close hold on what it was learning through interviews with more than 1,000 people — including with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — and accumulating more than 140,000 documents. Despite leaks, it remained unclear whether the committee was going to make Trump the focus of their hearings.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the top Republican on the panel, took direct aim at Trump, saying he repeatedly rebuffed pleas by his aides to call off the violent mob attacking police and lawmakers.
“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,” Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, said in her opening statement.
“President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”
“President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.” Rep. Liz Cheney
The committee played short clips of several of the highest-profile interviews it conducted with Trump's inner circle — including those who remain allied with the president, like Jason Miller.
"I was in the Oval Office," Miller said in the clip that was played. "At some point in the conversation, Matt Oczkowski, who was the lead data person, was brought on, and I remember he delivered to the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose."
Cheney argued that Trump knew he had lost the election but continued to push false claims to try to hold on to power.
Cheney, who was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the riot, said future hearings will reveal live and recorded testimony from more than a half-dozen Trump White House aides — all of whom were in the West Wing that day — who pleaded with the then-president to call off the attack, to no avail.
The testimony, Cheney added, will also show that Trump backed his supporters who breached the Capitol and wanted to assassinate Pence.
“President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol ‘were doing what they should be doing.’ This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave,” Cheney said.
“You will hear testimony that ‘the president didn’t really want to put anything out’ calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave. You will hear that President Trump was yelling and ‘really angry at advisers who told him he needed to do be doing something more,’” Cheney said.
“And, aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.”
Cheney played recorded testimony in which Milley said it was Pence who called him on Jan. 6 asking for help to put down the riot.
But Meadows did call asking for help to dispel perceptions that it was Pence who was calling the shots.
Milley testified that Meadows said: "'We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the president is still in charge and that things are steady or stable, or words to that effect.'"
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is facing a stiff primary challenge but has not ruled out running for president herself if Trump seeks another bid for the White House in 2024.
In the back of the cavernous hearing room sat the “Gallery Group” — roughly a dozen Democratic lawmakers who had been trapped in the House gallery as rioters attempted to breach the chamber.
As videos of the violence played and Edwards gave her testimony, some lawmakers wept and shook their heads and comforted each other. One, Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., who served as a prosecutor in Trump’s second impeachment trial, said the Jan. 6 committee picked up where the impeachment managers had left off more than a year ago.
“You’re seeing all the tentacles of it, all the threads of it just begun to be laid out,” Dean said in an interview after the hearing.
“I’m so sad for our country. I’m sad for those people who were told those lies in a repeated way for months upon months upon months,” Dean continued. “They were deceived through lies and disinformation by an autocrat who only wanted to retain power for himself and [was] enabled by a sick group of people.”