By Annie Grayer, Melanie Zanona and Ryan Nobles, CNN
Some of Donald Trump’s fiercest allies in Congress are continuing to downplay or ignore the January 6 insurrection, taking cues from the former President even after four police officers testified Tuesday, in front of the House select committee investigating the deadly Capitol attack, about their harrowing experiences that day.
Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas rejected the notion that lawmakers were downplaying the insurrection, only to then say that he thought it was an exaggeration to frame the riot as the worst attack since the Civil War.
“I don’t know of anybody that’s tried to downplay it other than, you know, their gross exaggeration that it’s the worst attack on democracy since the Civil War. As Christopher Wray said, it’s hard for those of us who were here for 9/11 to say ‘Yes, this was worse than 9/11,’ ” Gohmert said Tuesday, paraphrasing testimony from the FBI director in June where he rejected a comparison between January 6 and 9/11. At that hearing, Wray called the insurrection “a very significant attack in its own right” and an “effort to disrupt a key part of our constitutional system and the peaceful transition of government.”
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told CNN that he “condemned the violence” that occurred on January 6, but he also tried to make the point that there were peaceful protesters that day.
“There were tens of thousands of people that day that engaged in peaceful protest. There were a few hundred that committed acts of violence.”
GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona told CNN that the select committee hearing on Tuesday “wasn’t bipartisan.” The committee features seven Democrats and two Republicans.
Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who has compared scenes from January 6 to “a normal tourist visit,” told CNN that “I’ve not heard anything yet today” when asked if he had watched the hearing or if the officers’ testimony made him change his mind about how he has previously characterized the riot. Clyde also got into a heated exchange with Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, during a separate hearing Tuesday evening over his “tourist” remarks, but Clyde refused to retract his statement.
Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana said on ABC News, “What we experienced was a breach in the security at the highest levels of law enforcement. We did not have an armed invasion of the Capitol. We had a breach in security. And that is what we have to focus on, making sure it doesn’t happen again.”
GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas responded by saying, “I don’t think this hearing is about finding out about what actually happened that day. I think this hearing is about posturing for the 2022 election.”
And on the same day the select committee held its first hearing, Reps. Gohmert, Gosar, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Andy Biggs of Arizona, who led the charge to overturn the election results in the Congress, held a news conference outside of the Department of Justice trying to discuss the treatment of January 6 “prisoners” — an event that Democrats deemed as evidence of Republicans siding with the rioters over the cops.
The fact that Trump acolytes are continuing to minimize the events of January 6 is hardly surprising given that the former President himself has referred to the rioters as a “loving crowd” and just recently falsely blamed the violence on Black Lives Matter protesters and antifa.
The wave of whitewashing that is continuing to course through the GOP underscores why select committee members have said this investigation is so important. By centering their first hearing on the stories of officers who served that day and showing video of what happened, members on the committee turned Tuesday’s hearing into an opportunity to publicly poke holes in the false claims made by some Republicans that the protest was peaceful or the insurrectionists were unarmed.
“I want to know what happened that day, but more importantly, I want all Americans to be able to trust the work this Committee does and get the facts out there, free of conspiracy,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans to serve on the select committee, said in his opening statement.
The Republican attempts to rewrite history are also threatening to undermine the carefully coordinated messaging strategy launched by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top allies, who want to focus on the security failures at the Capitol on January 6 without impugning the harrowing testimony from the four police officers about the attacks they experienced that day.
With Republicans wary of coming across as anti-police, GOP leaders kicked off a Tuesday morning news conference — which was designed to counterprogram the select committee hearing — by thanking the police for protecting them every day. Then they blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the security lapse and what police officers experienced on January 6, even though she is not responsible for day-to-day security operations.
“The Capitol Police should not have been put in this position,” McCarthy said. “They should have been able to have the resources, the training, the equipment. They shouldn’t be locked in a bus away. We should not have a sergeant of arms that waits to ask for a political answer when it comes to the need for reinforcements. Especially if you knew for weeks in advance.”
Despite the GOP’s widespread praise for the police, many Republicans from across the conference said they didn’t watch the hearing with law enforcement officers.
Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a staunch Trump supporter and one of the architects of the GOP’s plans to object to the presidential election results on the House floor, told reporters Tuesday afternoon, “I didn’t watch it. I don’t know what happened.”
Even McCarthy said he was not able to watch the hearing because he was stuck in “back to back meetings.”
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the Republicans Pelosi denied a seat on the select committee, said he was able to watch only “part” of the hearing Tuesday but couldn’t watch “that much” because he was busy in another hearing.
Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas, who was one of McCarthy’s initial picks to serve on the select committee, said he watched the whole hearing in his office, and he rejected the notion that any of his colleagues were trying to downplay or whitewash what happened on January 6 in light of the hearing
“You don’t have Republicans out here thinking they’re downplaying this,” Nehls said. “It was absolutely horrible.”
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