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Hearing on Jan. 6 US Capitol Violence Exposes Stark Partisan Divisions

FILE - Protesters confront riot police at the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters caused violence and chaos in Washington while Congress attempted to vote to certify that President-elect Joe Biden won the election.
FILE - Protesters confront riot police at the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters caused violence and chaos in Washington while Congress attempted to vote to certify that President-elect Joe Biden won the election.

Republicans sought to shift the narrative on the violent Jan. 6 insurrection during a congressional hearing Wednesday, with some painting the Trump supporters who stormed the building as patriots who have been unfairly harassed, as Democrats clashed with the former Pentagon chief while drilling into the government's unprepared response.

The colliding lines of questioning, and a failure to settle on a universally agreed-upon set of facts, underscored the challenges Congress faces as it investigates what law enforcement officials have described as a deadly act of domestic terrorism carried out by Trump loyalists bent on overturning the election.

The hearing before the House Oversight Committee unfolded as the House Republicans removed Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership post after she rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in inciting the Capitol attack.

Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified publicly for the first time about Jan. 6, defending their respective agencies' responses to the chaos. But the hearing soon devolved into partisan bickering about how that day unfolded, with Democrats accusing Republicans of rewriting history and GOP lawmakers insisting their party had been unfairly vilified for objecting to election results.

"I find it hard to believe the revisionist history that's being offered by my colleagues on the other side," Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, proclaimed in exasperation. Other Democrats made similar accusations, with Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland urging his Republican colleagues to stop with the "evasions" and "distractions."

Republicans sought to refocus attention from the hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed into the Capitol as Congress was certifying the election results. Instead, they suggested that Democrats had failed to forcefully condemn violence in American cities last summer during periods of civil unrest.

In ways that clearly rewrote the facts of the day and the investigations that resulted, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona said the Justice Department was "harassing peaceful patriots." He described a California woman who was fatally shot by an officer during the insurrection after climbing through the broken part of a door as having "been executed," even though prosecutors have said the officer won't be prosecuted.

"It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others," said Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, overlooking that loyalists to the president instigated the riot, smashing through windows and spraying officers with pepper and bear spray.

One Capitol Police officer who was injured while confronting rioters suffered a stroke and died a day later of natural causes. Dozens more were severely injured, some of whom may never return to duty.

Democrats, for their part, clashed with Miller repeatedly over the hours-long delay in dispatching the National Guard to the Capitol, with Rep. Ro Khanna of California saying he was dumfounded "we had someone like you in that role." After Miller described Lynch's line of questioning as ridiculous, Lynch shot back that he was ridiculous.

"You were AWOL, Mr. Secretary," said Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.

"That's completely inaccurate," Miller replied. "That's completely inaccurate."

In testimony aimed at rebutting broad criticism that military forces were too slow to arrive even as the pro-Trump rioters violently breached the building and stormed inside, Miller told the committee he was concerned before the insurrection that sending troops to the Capitol could fan fears of a military coup and cause a repeat of the deadly Kent State shootings in 1970.

"No such thing was going to occur on my watch, but these concerns, and hysteria about them, nonetheless factored into my decisions regarding the appropriate and limited use of our armed forces to support civilian law enforcement during the Electoral College certification," Miller said. "My obligation to the nation was to prevent a constitutional crisis."

He said that though Trump had encouraged his supporters to protest the election results, he did not believe Trump's rhetoric — which led to his impeachment — was the "unitary" factor in the riot. Trump was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Miller denied that Trump had any involvement in the Defense Department's response, saying the men did not speak that day. But Democrats made clear their focus on Trump and his role in the riot.

"The failures of Jan. 6 go beyond the craven lies and provocations of one man," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat and the committee's chairwoman.

Some Republicans sought to attack what they said was a false narrative that Trump had instigated the riot and focused instead on violence that roiled American cities last summer in the days following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. A white police officer had pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn't breathe and went motionless.

"What is wrong is when individuals take to crime, violence and mob tactics," said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee's top Republican. "This was wrong on Jan. 6, and this was wrong last summer when several cities across the country were attacked by rioters."

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio also asserted that Republicans were being unfairly maligned for doubting election results when he said Democrats have done so in the past — although a riot at the Capitol aimed at halting the certification of those results was an unprecedented moment in history.

"It's not about revisionist history," Jordan said. "It's about the double-standard that Democrats want to have. That's the part that bothers me most."

Rosen in his testimony defended the Justice Department's preparation and also said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that could have caused the results to be voided. His former boss, William Barr, has said the same.