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2 witnesses who interacted directly with the Proud Boys during the Capitol riot will testify tonight

Nick Quested will testify during the Jan. 6 House select committee hearing about his experience filming members of the Proud Boys during the riot at the Capitol.
Nick Quested will testify during the Jan. 6 House select committee hearing about his experience filming members of the Proud Boys during the riot at the Capitol. (Mike Pont/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

The Jan. 6 House select committee says its hearing tonight will include testimony from two witnesses who interacted directly with the Proud Boys during the riot at the Capitol.

The panel announced earlier this week that it will call documentarian Nick Quested to testify about his experience filming members of the Proud Boys in the week leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, and Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was injured after she was part of an altercation involving members of the Proud Boys while defending the US Capitol.

Quested has already been deposed by the committee and Justice Department officials about his experience and has provided the committee and the department with video footage from the filming of his documentary.

He was embedded with the Proud Boys for a significant period of time leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, and is considered a firsthand fact witness because of the amount of time he spent with the group.

Some background: Leaders of the Proud Boys were involved in some of the early clashes that overpowered police lines and breached the Capitol. The group has been a focus of the Justice Department for months, and on Monday the agency charged the head of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, and four other leaders with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

These are the most aggressive charges brought by the Justice Department against the Proud Boys, and the first allegations by prosecutors that the group tried to forcibly oppose the presidential transfer of power.

Tarrio and his co-defendants previously pleaded not guilty to an earlier slate of charges.

The Jan. 6 committee was tweaking plan for tonight’s hearing up until the last minute, sources say

A large projection screen is seen before Thursday night's hearing.
A large projection screen is seen before Thursday night’s hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Jan. 6 select committee held final rehearsals for tonight’s prime-time hearing today and sources say members and staff were making final tweaks and adjustments to their plan right up until the last minute.

While the committee had the lion’s share of their plan in place, they were still making final decisions about the order of their presentation, even deciding which videos to share tonight and which to save for later hearings.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, and GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee vice chair, are expected to play a starring role, with other members of the committee not contributing much to tonight’s hearing. They instead are being tasked with running separate hearings on later dates.

The hearing will rely heavily on a multimedia presentation to set the stage for what the investigation has uncovered up until this point, and tee up more in depth hearings throughout the month of June.

Biden and Trump both plan to watch the hearing

President Biden, who previewed the first prime-time hearing of the committee investigating Jan. 6, plans to watch as much as he can in between meetings and a scheduled dinner with world leaders in Los Angeles, sources familiar with his plan say.

Biden believes the committee has woven together the events of that day — including what happened before, during and after — in a way that will be informative for Americans.

As for former President Trump, who watched those events unfold from the Oval Office on Jan. 6, 2021, will also be keeping an eye on the hearings, one person says. Trump, who is often impressed but agitated by well-produced events, has urged allies to flood the airwaves with attacks on the committee.

Trump won’t be the only one paying attention. Several former members of his West Wing staff say they also plan to watch the hearing to see if it tells a compelling narrative, or falls flat.

Fact check: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene falsely claims Schumer rejected National Guard presence for Jan. 6

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene delivers a speech on the House floor on Thursday.
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene delivers a speech on the House floor on Thursday. (House TV)

In a speech on the House floor on Thursday, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia repeated the common Republican claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had rejected a National Guard presence for January 6. There is no evidence that the Speaker, who has no authority over the activation of the District of Columbia National Guard, was involved in any such rejection; her office has repeatedly said she wasn’t even consulted.

But Greene went even further than her colleagues — also casting blame on the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. Greene claimed that Schumer also turned down the Guard and was also responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol on the day of the riot.

Facts FirstGreene’s claim about Schumer is false. Schumer, now the Senate Majority Leader, was Senate Minority Leader at the time of the riot on January 6, 2021; Republican Mitch McConnell, whom Greene did not blame in her Thursday speech, was head of the majority. And even the Senate Majority Leader does not have any authority over the activation of the DC National Guard. The President of the United States has that authorityalong with Department of Defense officials to whom presidential power has been delegated.

Schumer only became Senate Majority Leader two weeks after January 6, when two Democrats who won runoff elections held in Georgia on January 5, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, were sworn in as senators and the Democrats took narrow control of the chamber.

Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman told CNN on Thursday that, during the riot, Schumer asked the Secretary of the Army to approve National Guard assistance at the Capitol. An official timeline released by the Department of Defense confirms that Schumer spoke to the secretary that afternoon.

Greene’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment CNN sent around 3:40 pm.

The “heart” of tonight’s hearing will be Rep. Liz Cheney’s opening remarks

US Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House select committee, testifies before the House Rules Committee in April.
US Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House select committee, testifies before the House Rules Committee in April. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

The “heart” of the hearing will be Rep Liz Cheney’s opening remarks – which are written like the opening statement of a trial.

She will lay out step by step what happened on Jan. 6 and to do that she will use clips from closed-door testimony that the committee has gathered since it was formed almost a year ago.

What to watch: Expect those clips to include Donald Trump’s family members but also other people in and around the former President. This is all about connecting the dots in a way that paints a picture – and Cheney will be crucial in doing that tonight.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has told officials he plans to watch the hearing

(Alex Brandon/AP)

Attorney General Merrick Garland has told officials that he intends to watch as much of tonight’s Jan. 6 committee hearing as he can.

Garland and the Justice Department have been playing a key role in investigating the insurrection at the Capitol. CNN reported earlier this week that top Democratic leaders in Washington and across the country fear that Donald Trump might be running for president again by the time Garland decides whether to prosecute him and others in his orbit for the Jan. 6 insurrection — and that any action by President Biden’s Justice Department could be cast by Republicans as little more than a political vendetta.

Two dozen leading Democrats in Washington and across the country tell CNN that Garland may have missed his moment to bring criminal charges against top Trump administration officials before it would get caught up in the 2024 presidential campaign jockeying set to begin later this year, after the midterm elections.

Garland, a longtime federal judge with a quiet demeanor, has vowed to keep politics out of decision-making at the Justice Department, though he says he is not avoiding political cases. And Justice officials say they still have plenty of time in President Biden’s administration should they decide to bring prosecutions for any crimes connected to the effort to overturn the election results.

The Justice Department has traditionally held to a 60-day window before Election Days to hold off on political prosecutions, which would put a cutoff date in early September. However, that usually has applied only to people who are on the ballot in the upcoming election.

Justice officials tell CNN they believe that moving slowly and saying little bolsters their credibility, something they’ll need as they investigate people associated with the 2020 Trump campaign. Even so, prosecutors have charged more than 800 defendants as part of the largest investigation in US Justice Department history.

Committee members are aware of the stakes of tonight’s hearing

From left, US Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney and Jamie Raskin leave after a committee meeting in March.
From left, US Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney and Jamie Raskin leave after a committee meeting in March. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The members of the Jan. 6 House select committee are aware of the high expectations connected to tonight’s hearing. Committee members acknowledge that there has been a significant period of time since the Capitol riot and that much of their investigation has been conducted behind closed doors.

Members of the committee recognize that they have two important missions tonight: First to re-introduce the events of Jan. 6, 2021, to the American people and remind them of the gravity of the situation and the implications it could have had on the peaceful transfer of power.

The second is to introduce their thesis — that Donald Trump is specifically responsible for the push to undermine the election results and that effort was directly tied to the Capitol riot.

Their goal is re-invest the public in the urgency of the moment. They hope that opens the door to more interest in their future hearings and ultimately their final report in the fall.

The Jan. 6 committee hearing is starting soon. Here are key things to watch for.

The House select committee meets on Capitol Hill in March.
The House select committee meets on Capitol Hill in March. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

The House select committee investigating Jan. 6 will use its first prime-time public heariay to make the case that former President Donald Trump was at the center of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and prevent the transition of power, according to the committee.

The panel will reveal new evidence that aides say will help “connect the dots” between Trump’s election lies, his attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election win and the violence that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the US Capitol in an effort to stop the counting of electoral votes.

Aides outlined the first public hearing, which will take place in prime time, as the committee’s opening salvo – previewing what’s to come in the month’s worth of planned hearings.

Here’s what to watch for:

New video and attempt to draw a direct line between Trump and violence

Thursday, the committee plans to show previously unseen video of testimony collected during closed depositions that includes interviews with Trump White House aides, campaign officials and members of Trumps’ family.

Committee aides said they also plan to show video to remind the public what happened on January 6 when the Capitol was overrun by a violent mob. “We’ll bring the American people back to the reality of that violence and remind them of just how horrific it was,” one aide said.

The committee said the “vast majority” of the video that it plans to show has not been seen publicly before.

That video will be supplemented by live witness testimony from two witnesses who had an up-close view of the rioters: US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was among the first injured by rioters on January 6, and documentarian Nick Quested, who had unique access to members of militia groups who took part in the attack.

The committee will seek to use that evidence to draw a direct line between Trump and the groups who perpetrated the violence on Jan. 6. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney will make opening statements and they will be the ones to question the witnesses Thursday, aides said.

While the hearings won’t be the committee’s final word – a report is planned for later in the year – it’s the panel’s highest-profile opportunity to convince the public whose views have hardened about why it should care about what happened on January 6. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are preparing their own counter-programming to attack the committee’s work as a political attack on Trump.

Former Presidents decided against recording messages for hearing, fearful of injecting politics, sources say

Americans will not be hearing from their former Presidents tonight.

The House select committee asked some of the former living Presidents whether they would record a video message about the importance of the peaceful transition of power in the United States, people familiar with the matter tell CNN, with a particular focus from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama.

The three former Presidents decided against making the video messages, people familiar with the matter say, fearful that it could unnecessarily inject politics into the investigation — and create an unnecessary opening for the other member of the President’s club, Donald Trump, to seize upon.

While Clinton, Bush and Obama all have spoken out against the attack on the Capitol — in real-time messages on that day, as the violence was underway, and multiple times over the past year — the trio will not be heard from tonight.

Wives and partner of officers who died after responding to Capitol attack expected to attend tonight’s hearing

Three women — all the wives or long-time partner of the officers who died after responding to the Capitol attack — are expected to attend the first Jan. 6 hearing tonight.

Erin Smith, Sandra Garza and Serena Liebengood will attend the hearing in person, accompanied by Capitol police officers Harry Dunn, Daniel Hodges, and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell.

Erin Smith’s attorney confirmed she plans to attend, but does not plan to speak. Smith’s husband Jeffrey Smith was an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department. Officer Smith died nine days after responding to the Capitol attack. Video evidence turned over to the District of Columbia’s Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board showed Officer Smith assaulted by the mob and hit in the head with a metal pole on Jan. 6, 2021. His death by suicide was declared a line of duty death in early March of this year, and his wife Erin is now entitled to full benefits.

Serena Liebengood is still fighting to have her husband’s death ruled in the line of duty. Capitol Police officer Howie Liebengood died by suicide in the days after Jan. 6, 2021. Liebengood says her husband assisted with riot control on Jan. 6, 2021 and then worked lengthy shifts in the days that followed.

In a letter to Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton soon after his death in 2021 urging her husband’s death be declared in the line of duty, Liebengood wrote of her husband’s experience: “Although he was severely sleep-deprived, he remained on duty — as he was directed — practically around the clock from January 6th through the 9th. On the evening of the 9th, he took his life at our home.”

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes one day after he confronted rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to a ruling from D.C.’s chief medical examiner.

His longtime partner Sandra Garza wrote an op-ed for CNN last June blasting Republican lawmakers who refused to acknowledge the gravity of the Capitol attack: “As the months passed, my deep sadness turned to outright rage as I watched Republican members of Congress lie on TV and in remarks to reporters and constituents about what happened that day. Over and over they denied the monstrous acts committed by violent protestors….To know that some members of Congress – along with the former President, Donald Trump, who Brian and I once supported but who can only now be viewed as the mastermind of that horrible attack – are not acknowledging Brian’s heroism that day is unforgivable and un-American.”