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By MARY CLARE JALONICK
WASHINGTON (AP) — “This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance.”
Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell told House investigators Tuesday he could feel himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by rioters – supporters of former President Donald Trump – as he was defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Gonell and other Capitol and Washington police officers gave emotional, sometimes-angry accounts of the attack to the new House committee investigating the day’s violent events. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who rushed to the scene, said he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” He said the rioters’ chants to kill him with his own gun are still ringing in his head today.
Rebuking Republican law- makers who have resisted the hearings, Fanone said, “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room.“
Pounding his fist on the table in front of him, he said, “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.”
Gonnell wiped away tears as he described hearing other officers screaming in agony and pain just a few feet away from him on Jan. 6.
The new panel opened its first hearing with a focus on the law enforcement officers who were attacked and beaten as the rioters broke into the building — an effort by the panel to put a human face on the violence of the day. The officers emotionally detailed the horror of their experiences, their injuries and the lasting trauma as they begged to the lawmakers to investigate the attack.
The police officers who testified endured some of the worst of the brutality. They were beaten and called racial slurs as the mob of then- President Trump’s supporters overwhelmed them, broke through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win.
The panel’s chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson played video of the attack and told the police officers: “History will remember your name.” He said the rioters “came ready for a fight, and they were close to succeeding.”
Thompson added: “There’s no place for politics and par- tisanship in this investigation.“
Tensions on Capitol Hill have only worsened since the insurrection, with many Republicans playing down, or outright denying, the vio- lence that occurred and denouncing the Democratic- led investigation as political- ly motivated. Democrats now want to launch the probe — and win public support for it — by remind- ing people how brutal it was, and how the law enforcement officers who were sworn to protect the Capitol suffered grave injuries at the hands of the rioters.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel, gave opening remarks after Thompson — an effort by Democrats to appear as bipartisan as pos- sible.
“The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed, for every American is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law, respect the rulings of our courts, and preserve the peaceful transition of power?” Cheney asked. “Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America?”
The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, withdrew the participation of other Republicans last week after Pelosi rejected two of them, saying their “antics” in support of Trump, and his lies that he won the election, weren’t appropriate for the serious investigation. Monday evening, the House voted against a resolution offered by the GOP leader to force the members to sit on the panel.
McCarthy has stayed close to Trump since the insurrection and has threatened to pull committee assignments from any Republican who participates on the Jan. 6 panel. He has called Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who is also sitting on the committee, “Pelosi Republicans,” an effort that Cheney immediately dismissed as “childish.”
Ahead of the hearing on Tuesday, McCarthy again called the process a “sham” and said Pelosi only wants the questions asked “that she wants asked.”
McCarthy told reporters that Pelosi should be investigated for her role in the security failures of the day but ignored questions about Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had identical authority over the Capitol Police and Capitol security officials.
Thompson aid the hearing will “set the tone” of the probe, which will examine not only Trump’s role in the insurrection but the rightwing groups involved in coordination before the attack, white supremacists among them.
It will also look at the security failures that allowed hundreds of people to breach the Capitol and send lawmakers running for their lives. Some of those who broke in were calling for the deaths of Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was hiding just feet away from the mob.
Outside of a committee preparation session for the hearing on Monday, Kinzinger told reporters that “for too long, we’ve been pretending that Jan. 6 didn’t happen.” He said he never expected to be in this position, “but when you have these conspiracies that continue to thrive, when you have lies and misinformation that continue to thrive, it’s essential for us as members of Congress to get to the answers.”
Shortly after the insurrection, almost every Republican denounced the violent mob — and Trump himself, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. But many have softened their tone in recent months and weeks.
And some have gone further, with Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde saying a video of the rioters looked like “a normal tourist visit” and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar repeatedly saying that a woman who was shot and killed by police as she was trying to break into the House chamber was “exe- cuted.” Others have falsely claimed that Democrats or liberal groups were respon- sible for the attack.
The officers testifying have become increasingly politi- cally active in recent months, and went from office to office in May to lobby Senate Republicans to support an outside commission to investigate the insurrection. The Senate GOP ultimately rejected that effort, though that panel would have been evenly split between the parties.