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Members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol had said they would document a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election, with President Donald Trump sitting in the very center.
During its first primetime hearing, the committee’s presentation emphasized that Trump — contrary to every public statement he made, every tweet he sent, every plea he made to his supporters — knew that he had lost the 2020 election.
In video after video, the committee showed an array of people who had told Trump that he lost.
There was Trump’s own Attorney General William Barr, the country’s top law enforcement officer. Barr talked to Trump on Nov. 23, Dec. 1 and Dec. 14.
"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 bull----. And I didn't want to be a part of it," Barr said in an interview.
Trump’s senior re-election campaign adviser Jason Miller described a scene shortly after the election.
"I was in the Oval Office and at some point in the conversation, the lead data person was brought in and I remember he delivered to the president in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose," Miller said.
A campaign lawyer told how he had reported back to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that no allegation of significant fraud held up.
Not even Trump’s daughter Ivanka said she believed the lie of a stolen election. She said she respected Barr, "so, I accepted what he was saying."
And yet, despite the chorus of voices, Trump insisted the opposite was true.
"Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had, in fact, lost the election," said committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. "But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election from him."
And on the basis of that lie, Cheney said, people stormed the Capitol.
Perhaps the most emotionally compelling moment of the evening was the testimony of Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards. The chaos of the assault has been seen many times, but Edwards was there at the first breach of the Capitol perimeter. She was knocked unconscious, recovered and ran to hold the rioters as they came up the Senate steps.
At one moment, Edwards turned and took in the scene around her.
"I could not believe my eyes," Edwards said. "There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding, they were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos."
And in keeping with the committee’s theme that Trump denies the reality of everything around the election, the committee played an excerpt from a Fox News interview he gave July 11, 2021.
"These were peaceful people, these were great people," Trump said. "The crowd was unbelievable. I mentioned the word love, the love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it."
The Proud Boys were a well-armed, organized group that were the first to breach the police line at the Capitol.
They were the first to shatter a window that gave the crowd free access to enter and roam through the building.
In a recent indictment, the group’s leader and four others were charged with seditious conspiracy. In the weeks before the attack, the group assembled paramilitary gear and supplies, including concealed tactical vests, protective equipment, and radio equipment.
What the committee added was video and testimony from documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, who was with the Proud Boys that morning. Quested said he was with about 200 Proud Boys who made their way up to the Capitol.
One thing caught Quested off-guard. He met up with the group at 10:30 in the morning, well before Trump spoke at the rally on the White House Ellipse.
"They were starting to walk towards the Capital," Quested said. "There was a large contingent, more than I would expect, and I was confused to a certain extent. Why we were walking away from the president's speech, because that is what I felt we were there to cover."
But as the government’s indictment made clear, as did video clips from members of the Proud Boys themselves, they weren’t there to listen to Trump. They were there to assault the Capitol.
Cheney said the next hearings, coming up June 13 and June 15, will focus on Trump’s efforts to convince Americans that he really won the election and his attempts to replace the attorney general.
PBS, Jan. 6 Committee hearings - Day 1, June 9, 2022
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Proud Boys indictment, June 6, 2022
Just Security, January 6 Clearinghouse, June 7, 2022