Trump has dismissed the probe as "fake and highly partisan" (File)Washington:
Wiping away tears, a police officer told a rapt US congressional hearing Tuesday he believed "this is how I'm going to die" while defending the Capitol on January 6 against a rampaging mob branding him a traitor.
Another recalled how he was beaten unconscious by rioters supportive of then-president Donald Trump and said he "went to hell and back" protecting US lawmakers and the citadel of American democracy.
The gripping accounts served as opening testimony in a landmark hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, which opened with hair-raising videos of the deadly attack.
But it was the dramatic personal recollections of officers under siege by people they described as "terrorists" that set the tone in a closely-watched session.
It was "something from a medieval battle," Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, an immigrant US Army Iraq combat veteran, told the panel, describing how he and colleagues "fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion" of the building.
"My fellow officers and I were punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants and even blinded by eye-damaging lasers by a violent mobs who apparently saw us... as an impediment to their attempted insurrection," Gonell told stunned committee members.
"This is how I'm going to die, defending this entrance," he recalled telling himself.
Six months after hundreds of Trump's supporters conducted the worst assault on the Capitol building since the war of 1812, the work of the committee has become a major political flashpoint.
"A violent mob was pointed toward the Capitol and told to win a trial by combat. Some descended on this city with clear plans to disrupt our democracy," the panel's Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, said in an opening statement.
"We know there is evidence of a coordinated planned attack. We know that the men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country."
Thompson vowed the committee would be "guided solely by the facts," adding "there's no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation."
Rioters, fuelled by an aggressive Trump rally in Washington earlier that day, fought their way into the Capitol, hunted for the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" and sought to block certification of Joe Biden's November presidential election victory.
US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn recalled the racial epithets including the N-word hurled at him and other police by rioters, many of whom were associated with ultra-nationalist and white supremacist groups
Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone said he was called "traitor" by rioters who beat and tasered him unconscious, and threatened to murder him with his own firearm.
"Nowhere in my wildest imagination did I ever expect to be in that situation," said Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury during the attack.
"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!" Fanone said, banging loudly on the table.
The fiery remark was clearly aimed at Republican leaders and rank-and-file members who have essentially boycotted the committee and downplayed the events of January 6.
Five people died during or shortly after the insurrection, while dozens of police were injured. Two police officers who took part in defending the Capitol later died by suicide.
Trump has dismissed the probe as "fake and highly partisan" and attempted to blame Pelosi for allegedly failing to protect the Capitol from his supporters, accusations echoed by his Republican backers.
"Now that the bipartisan Select Committee is beginning its work, the only tools left in House Republicans' arsenal are deflection, distortion, and disinformation," Pelosi's office hit back in a statement.
Pelosi and others had wanted a bipartisan, independent 9/11 commission-style panel to investigate the riot and its origins. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in January voiced support.
But with anxiety growing among Republicans concerned that a probe could prove politically damaging for their party ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the party began coalescing against a deep dive. Senate Republicans in May blocked the commission's creation.
House Republican leadership pulled its five committee appointments last week after Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy's picks.
Instead of leaving the panel with just Democrats, Pelosi unilaterally named two Republicans: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, forceful Trump critics who voted for his impeachment in January -- and who hugged the police officers as Tuesday's hearing began.
Cheney and Kinzinger have drawn Republican censure for refusing to back Trump's baseless claims that the election was stolen.
Addressing the hearing, Cheney said "almost all members of my party recognize the events of that day for what they actually were," and that "no member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)