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Takeaways: Partisan discord instead of Jan. 6 answers

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill, questions Christopher Miller, former acting secretary of the Department of Defense, testifying virtually, during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on the Capitol breach on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON – A House hearing about what went wrong in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege frequently spiraled into partisan shouting matches on Wednesday, with lawmakers more often blaming each other than thoroughly questioning witnesses about the events of the day.

Democrats and Republicans have so far been unable to agree on a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, and officials involved in responding to the attack have pointed fingers at one another. The latest witnesses, including former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, were called by Democrats who are conducting their own set of investigations in the House.

Amid the rancor, the hearing yielded few new answers about the confusion that day, including why it took so long for the National Guard to arrive at the Capitol as the rioters — supporters of former President Donald Trump — beat and injured police defending the building and sent lawmakers running as they broke through windows and doors.

Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer who collapsed afterward and a woman who was shot by an officer as she broke through a broken window adjacent to the House chamber with lawmakers still inside. Two other police officers took their own lives in the wake of the riot.

Takeaways from Wednesday’s House hearing:

PARTISAN FRICTION

Democrats focused on Trump from the start, with House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney saying the riots were “incited by shameless lies told by a defeated president.“ The House impeached Trump shortly after the attack for telling his supporters that day to “fight like hell” to overturn the election and for pushing lies about election fraud. He was later acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans defended the former president, who baselessly says the election was stolen from him even though his claims were debunked by election officials across the country and his own attorney general.

And some defended the rioters, painting them in a patriotic light.

“It was not an insurrection,” said Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, a freshman Republican. He described the rioters as peaceful and said video of their presence in the Capitol didn’t look much different from a “normal tourist visit,” despite the fact that they injured police outside, broke through windows and doors and breached the Senate floor moments after senators had evacuated. They tried to beat down the doors of the House as well, but were stopped by police. Some menacingly called out for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chanted for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence.

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona defended a woman who was shot and killed by the Capitol Police as she tried to break into the House chamber, saying Ashli Babbitt was “executed” and casting her as a martyr because she was an Air Force veteran and was wearing an American flag. The Department of Justice decided after an investigation not to charge the police officer who shot her.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said the Republican narrative was "outrageous, Orwellian revisionist history” and showed the need for a bipartisan commission.

CHANGING THE SUBJECT

Many Republican members turned the subject to riots in cities around the country instead of what happened at the Capitol, a contrast that resonates with base GOP voters.

“Democrats continue to demonize tens of millions of Americans who support President Trump and have legitimate questions about the integrity of the elections,” said Kentucky Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the panel, about those who believe Trump’s false claims.

He said individuals who take to “crime, violence and mob tactics” are wrong, and that was true on Jan. 6 and also during last summer’s riots in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Comer said it’s “hypocritical” that Pelosi and Democrats are focused on Jan. 6 instead.

Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs played videos of riots last summer in Portland, Oregon, comparing an attack on a federal courthouse there to the Capitol siege.

FEW NEW ANSWERS

The hearing ultimately fell short of its advance billing as addressing “unexplained delays and unanswered questions.”

There’s still confusion on why law enforcement didn’t bolster security prior to Jan. 6 after weeks of public concerns about pro-Trump extremists descending on Washington for a rally near the White House.

Timelines issued by law enforcement agencies and the military conflict on what authority the D.C. National Guard believed it had as rioters ransacked the Capitol, with hours elapsing before a quick response force set up prior to Jan. 6 arrived to help restore order.

And who was ultimately in charge remains in doubt. The Associated Press has reported that Pence told military leaders at 4:08 p.m. to “clear the Capitol.” But Miller said Wednesday that he didn’t consider Pence’s statements a direct order since the vice president wasn’t in the chain of command. He also said he didn’t speak to Trump that day because he believed the then-president had given him the authority he needed earlier.

Miller did describe a conversation he had with Trump three days earlier. On Jan. 3, Miller said, Trump told him to “do whatever was necessary to protect the demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights.”

PENTAGON DELAYS

Democrats attacked Miller repeatedly — at some points screaming at him — about what they argue were unnecessary delays by the Pentagon in sending help to an overrun Capitol.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told Miller that he has “never been more offended” by a witness statement than he was at Miller’s testimony defending his own actions. As the former acting defense secretary became more combative, Khanna told him that “your pugnacious style is not going to override the Democratic process” and said he was after “total self promotion.”

Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia speculated that Miller may have “slow-rolled” troops and asked if Trump or any officials had pushed for a delay.

“110%, absolutely not,” Miller responded. “No, that is not the case.”

Under questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Miller said he agreed at 3 p.m. to move guardsmen to the Capitol. A Defense Department timeline includes that direction but also adds that at 4:32 p.m., Miller “provided verbal authorization” for the Guard to “conduct perimeter and clearance operations.”

During those 92 minutes, rioters continued to rampage inside the building as lawmakers and others inside huddled for safety.

Miller testified that D.C. National Guard Commanding Gen. William Walker was preparing a formal plan — a “concept of operations” — for the Guard to enter the Capitol.

Walker has testified that the “concept of operations” his superiors wanted was “unusual.” Miller retorted Wednesday that Walker’s request could have been met “in a matter of seconds with an oral briefing.”

Asked by Ocasio-Cortez if he doubted Walker’s testimony, Miller said, “I can understand there’s an inconsistency and perhaps disagreement.”