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Former Trump Officials Defended Their Response To Jan. 6 Capitol Attack In Hearing

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On Capitol Hill today, former Trump officials testified for the first time since the January 6 attack. Taking center stage at the House Oversight Committee hearing - bitter exchanges like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHEN LYNCH: This is a very recent reversal of your testimony.

CHRISTOPHER MILLER: Absolutely not. That's ridiculous.

LYNCH: You're ridiculous.

CHANG: That was Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch in one of the sharper exchanges of the day with former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. To tell us more about how today unfolded, we are joined now by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it sounds like a pretty intense day. Just to be clear, this is the first time either Miller or the former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, has testified on the insurrection, correct?

GRISALES: That is correct. And yes, it was indeed very intense at moments, like the one you just heard. Both Miller and Rosen, while condemning these deadly - condemning the deadly breach from the insurrection, they were steadfast in their defense of their responses that day. And as you heard there at the top, Miller was ready to back down accusations questioning that. We also saw this, when Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi said Miller partially owned the mayhem of that day. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: You were AWOL, Mr. Secretary. You were AWOL. Remember...

MILLER: That's completely inaccurate.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: ...As you said before...

MILLER: That's completely inaccurate.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: ...As you said before, you have responsibility for everything. "Something goes wrong," quote-unquote, "I own it completely, 110%."

GRISALES: And as we heard there, Miller rejected that claim, highlighting the military's response in another tense exchange, where he refused California Democrat Ro Khanna's demand that Miller apologize. Khanna said Miller's testimony was the most offensive witness statement he's ever heard.

CHANG: Wow. OK, so how did Republicans respond to all of this?

GRISALES: Well, they wanted to focus on Democrats, and they accused them of trying to revise the narrative of what happened on January 6. One of those members, Ohio GOP Representative Jim Jordan, asked Rosen to weigh in on whether the election was stolen. He said that he didn't believe so. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFFREY ROSEN: And I think it's really necessary and important for all of us to find ways to restore our citizens' faiths in the electoral process and in our representative system of government.

GRISALES: So with Republicans focused on these false claims, it was really a reminder of the alternate reality that some are trying to push in this continuing effort to defend Trump and his supporters on the day of the siege.

CHANG: Alternate reality, indeed. Now, I understand that this hearing - it's part of multiple investigations going on in Congress right now about the insurrection in January. How does this probe figure into all of that?

GRISALES: Well, it's a reminder Congress is facing a very tall order to reach any significant reform to ensure a breach like this never happens again. Everyone seems to agree on that, but the parties have yet to agree on how to get there. And there's a divide even in the GOP on this, as we've seen with Congresswoman Liz Cheney's removal today as the No. 3 House Republican. She's been an outspoken critic of Trump, and she's being punished, she says, for speaking the truth about Trump's role inciting the role - inciting the riot. And so House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney evoked her during the hearing. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLYN MALONEY: As Congresswoman Cheney said last night, and I quote, "Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar."

GRISALES: So for example, the parties have been stuck on trying to put together a deal on a 9/11-style commission to examine the insurrection as a large number of Republicans are saying they want to expand the scope to include the racial justice protests from last year. Cheney herself said the panel should just focus on January 6.

CHANG: OK. So what comes next for these Capitol security proposals?

GRISALES: So Democrats want to barrel forward regardless. They want to put together a commission. They say that the top Democrat and Republican on House Homeland Security are trying to reach a deal. And they're going to try to roll out a Supplemental Security funding bill as early as next week. But it will be a real test of this partisan divide.

CHANG: Yeah. That is NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.