In the months since the U.S. Capitol assault, Donald Trump has led the GOP efforts to distort and dismiss the realities of the anti-democratic and deadly riot that the former president himself instigated.
In his retelling, Ashli Babbitt—who was shot and killed trying to enter the House chamber on Jan. 6—wasn’t so much a rioter as she was an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman.” And, in Trump’s mind, some of the police officers who defended the Capitol that day aren’t the real heroes, calling them liberal “pussies” who loathe MAGA, and outliers within a broadly pro-Trump law enforcement community.
In private discussions this summer, Trump has told some people close to him that several of these officers strike him as weak and as “pussies,” according to two sources familiar with the comments and who described them independently. Trump has also maintained that these men seem “broke[n]” by the events of Jan. 6, and that they do not have the supposed toughness or character of the law enforcement officers who, on the whole nationally, still widely support Trump and his policies.
According to these two people, and another source with knowledge of the matter, the twice-impeached former president has also alleged that these particular police officers are letting themselves be used as pawns by anti-Trump Democrats, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), or simply despise Trump and are Democrats themselves.
However, there have been times when the ex-president has expressed some measure of pity for these men, saying that he feels sorry for them—but mostly because Trump thinks they’re being used or exploited by his political foes, the person with knowledge of the situation said.
A Trump spokeswoman did not provide comment on this story by Thursday evening.
Some of these officers, including D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, testified on Tuesday in front of the House special committee on Jan. 6 about their experiences facing down the Trumpist mob.
These conversations occurred weeks before the Capitol Hill hearing this week, which included testimony from multiple officers. But those who testified had been vocal for months about Jan. 6.
Fanone, in particular, has been visible in recent months, speaking out about the lingering trauma from that day and his frustration with GOP leaders as many of their rank and file members have followed Trump’s lead and gone all-in on Jan. 6 revisionist history. Another D.C. police officer who testified this week, Officer Daniel Hodges, previously described the attack as a “white nationalist insurrection.”
Fanone did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about Trump’s private comments.
While the former president belittled the officers who tried to fend off the attack he fomented, members of his party have struggled to settle on how exactly to balance their fealty to Trump with their “back the blue” sloganeering.
The bulk of Republican lawmakers have alternately ignored or insulted the police officers who have spoken out. Some have been totally comfortable impugning the integrity of those who did testify on Tuesday—not as crudely as Trump did, but in conspiratorial tones he likely appreciated.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), who was nominated by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to serve on the Jan. 6 panel until Pelosi vetoed the selection, appeared on Fox News on Tuesday night and suggested that the officers were reading from scripts prepared by the speaker.
“Even the statements that these police officers read, you could tell at times they didn’t write the statements,” Banks claimed. “They were merely reading them as they stumbled over some of the words that they weren’t familiar with as they were reading.”
Most Republicans, however, have chosen a safer path: simply not engaging with the testimony, in an attempt to sidestep any explicit support or rejection of the officers who defended the Capitol that day—a remarkable state of affairs for the conspicuously pro-police GOP.
Several GOP lawmakers, when asked by The Daily Beast on Wednesday if they’d watched the hearing the day before, claimed they hadn’t or only saw some of it.
Trump himself generally goes out of his way not to publicly mention the officers who’ve been hailed as heroes in political and media circles, instead opting to lionize rioters like Babbit or generally praise his Jan. 6 audience in Washington, D.C.
Only one Republican—Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6—said he’d watched the hearing. But he was circumspect when asked what he thought about it. “I want this to be a committee that’s non-partisan, and I hope that it stays true to that,” he said.
The safest place for most Republicans, regardless of whether they voted to impeach, or voted to create an independent commission to probe Jan. 6, has been attacking Democrats and Pelosi. That largely stems from the speaker’s decision to reject McCarthy’s nominations to the special committee, which included Banks and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).
Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), who was a surprise vote to impeach Trump, said the GOP made a “big, big mistake” in opposing an independent commission. But he also called the special committee a “waste of damn time.”
“She just proved the point that it was nakedly partisan,” Rice said of Pelosi. “And I have little hope that it will create either a fair portrayal of what happened.”
But even Republicans who McCarthy nominated to the Jan. 6 panel allowed that what transpired in the first hearing was powerful. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) told The Washington Post that one of the witnesses, U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Harry Dunn, was a “friend” and said, “those who wanted to hurt our officers, and hurt people inside this Capitol need to be held to the fullest extent of the law accountable for the crimes committed.”
Dunn testified that after the rioters had been cleared from the Capitol on Jan. 6, Davis spotted him in the rotunda and gave him a hug.
Plenty of Democrats—and certainly the two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)—were moved by the testimony on Tuesday. The four police officers at the witness stand each offered harrowing retellings of their experiences defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, and how the enduring physical and emotional trauma has affected their lives and livelihoods.
But they also offered searing indictments of the politics of the rioters they stared down, and the person who helped bring them there.
Hodges, an officer with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, pointedly referred to the rioters as “terrorists,” at one point even reading the federal criminal statute that pertains to domestic terrorism.
And Hodges made headlines shortly after Jan. 6 for telling NBC, “it was absolutely my pleasure to crush a white nationalist insurrection… I’m glad I was in a position to be able to help. We’ll do it as many times as it takes.”
Dunn, who is Black, recounted how members of the mob called him the N-word after he told them he voted for Joe Biden, while noting the pro-Trump apparel of those shouting racist slurs. “No one had ever, ever called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer,” Dunn said.
And several of the officers showed white-hot anger at GOP lawmakers who have attempted to rewrite Jan. 6 not as a violent subversion of democracy but as a “normal tourist visit,” as Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) did, or as a false flag hoax operation that was actually carried out by antifa, as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has suggested.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell isn’t that bad,” Fanone said, his voice rising. “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Fanone, notably, spent weeks trying to get a meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a top Trump ally, to discuss the response to Jan. 6 and some of his members’ willingness to embrace conspiracy theories about the day. When he did in June, Fanone told The New York Times that he asked McCarthy to denounce those lawmakers; he has not, and Fanone was not shy about connecting it to the GOP leader’s political calculations.
“When you’re that obsessed with gaining power that you’re willing to trample over a bunch of police officers, that’s sickening,” Fanone told the Times.