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Mon. 10:10 a.m.: As Jan. 6 probe begins, Dem vows: ‘We have to get it right’

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, didn’t realize the severity of the Jan. 6 insurrection until his wife called him.

He was inside the Capitol, sitting in the upper gallery of the House, hoping for what he called a “bird’s-eye view of the process” and to be able to tell his grandchildren that he was there when Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

People are breaking into the building, London Thompson told him, and it was on television. “I’m watching people climbing over the wall right now,” she said.

“It doesn’t register,” the Mississippi Democrat recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “I said, ‘You can’t break in. There’s police and barricades and a lot of things out there.'”

But it was not long before the House chamber was under siege. Police rushed Thompson and several dozen other members of Congress to another side of the gallery and told them to duck under their seats as supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to break down the doors to the chamber below.

“It was a horrible day,” said Thompson, “still almost surreal that it even occurred.”

Like Thompson, many who serve and work in the Capitol are trying to make sense of the chaos that unfolded on Jan. 6. And he now has a guiding role in the process, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the chairman of a select committee that will investigate the attack. The panel will hold its first hearing Tuesday with police officers who battled the rioters.

As the longtime chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Thompson is accustomed to dealing with grave matters of national security. But his stewardship of the Jan. 6 panel will be a test unlike any other, as he tries to untangle the events of a violent insurrection that many House Republicans increasingly play down and deny.

“We have to get it right,” Thompson said. If the committee can find ways to prevent anything like it from happening again, “then I would have made what I think is the most valuable contribution to this great democracy.”

Thompson, 73, is a liberal fixture in Congress and longtime champion of civil rights, the only Democrat in the Mississippi delegation, hailing from a majority-black district in the state’s western half. He has avoided the limelight during his more than 15 years on the Homeland Security Committee, notching achievements with careful bipartisan outreach.

Several Democrats and Republicans said Thompson was the right choice to lead an investigation that is certain to be partisan and fraught.

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