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U.S. Capitol Police officer gives firsthand account of Jan. 6 attack

A day after the release of a Senate report detailing the widespread security failures in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, we spoke with one of the police officers on the scene that day. Officer James Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the Capitol Police who is involved in a civil lawsuit against former President Trump, joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss his experiences when a violent mob stormed the Capitol.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A day after the release of a Senate report detailing the widespread security failures in the January 6 Capitol riot, our Lisa Desjardins sat down for an exclusive interview with one of the police officers who was on the scene that day.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was a chaotic scene, marked by tragedy and heroism.

    Officer James Blassingame, 17-year veteran of the Capitol Police, thank you for joining us.

    You're here along with your lawyer, Patrick Malone, who is representing you and a fellow officer in a civil lawsuit against former President Trump over harm done from the January 6 riot. He requested to be present for this interview.

    Tell me what happened that day.

  • James Blassingame:

    That's something that I try to process and go through from time to time, what happened. How did it happen?

    It was an insurrection. It was a significant amount of people that felt aggrieved and felt that invading the Capitol to impose their will was an appropriate action. It looked like a sort of — a horde of zombies, just people as far as you could see just salivating and…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Faces and bodies and…

  • James Blassingame:

    Yes.

    And they're tugging on the officers. And they're in danger. And there's nothing we can do. And then I hear somebody say — somebody yelled, "They're coming in a window."

    So, go towards the North Side, the Senate side of the Capitol. And there was some door. Nobody could get inside a door. That Capitol was kind of an old place and some things are antiquated. So we rolled out towards the center of the Rotunda, looking north, and you just hear just noise and people running at me as far as I can see, from the crypt all the way to the North Side, Senate side of the Capitol, is running at us.

    And I looked to my left and right, and there's like maybe eight, nine of us. And I'm thinking (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

    Sorry.

    And they kind of leak out. And there's like — we're holding a line, but there's no line we're holding, because there's an insurmountable amount of people, and there's like eight, nine officers. And…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And it's a massive space.

  • James Blassingame:

    I'm 39 years old.

    I have never been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to my face in 39 years. Might have been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED), but I have never been called one to my face. That streak ended on January 6. I was called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I was called a traitor, I was called various epithets.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What are you thinking at this point? How were you making decisions?

  • James Blassingame:

    I don't want to make it seem like braggadocios, like there was no fear.

    Like, absolutely, there had to have been some fear, but my — I don't think there was time for fear. It was: I have to make it home. Like, I have to survive this.

    I have been with the department 17 years. I have never been in a situation where I felt I had to use my weapon. That was a situation where I was pegging. I was like, OK, this is it.

    And the only reason why I didn't do it was because the mentality was, this is a four-alarm blaze. And if I pull my gun out and start shooting, I'm throwing kerosene on it. Maybe there's a chance I survive if I don't pull my weapon, but, if I do, I'm probably not going to make it out of here alive. You don't have enough bullets.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to help people understand that we have seen a lot of pictures from outside of the Capitol.

    The places you were, were some of the most dangerous and difficult confrontations in the Capitol. But you weren't unharmed.

  • James Blassingame:

    I would say it's much more, like, emotional and mental than anything else, because we can't really move past it.

    We're — something as simple as a commission being passed or trying to take that on, at the end of the day, as bad as it was, like, we did our job. Like, no member of Congress was harmed, you know?

    And to have to see these people every day, and they don't have our back, something as simple as just trying to find out what happened, so that it doesn't happen again, because my fear is this was the tip of the iceberg.

    You have a lot of people that are radicalized, that this is exactly what they wanted to do. And it's — by there being no accountability, it's emboldening them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to play sound of what some lawmakers have said in recent months, a different narrative from Republican lawmakers who question whether — how serious January 6 was.

    I want to play that and get your thoughts on it, if you can listen.

  • James Blassingame:

    OK.

  • Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA):

    If you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.

  • Rep. Pat Fallon, R- TX:

    Was January 6 an insurrection, or could it be more accurately described as a mob of misfits?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Wis.:

    I condemn the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol, intent on overthrowing the government, is just simply a false narrative.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What do you say?

  • James Blassingame:

    I would think certain things are above politics.

    I mean, it's deplorable to say — as bad as it looks on film, believe me, it was much worse. They can stitch together as much footage as they want to, but I'm telling you, and anybody in that was in that scrum will tell you, it was much worse in person than anything you're ever going to see on film.

    And for the narrative to be modify or changed, so that it's trying to make it seem something other than what it was, it's disheartening, especially — we go to work every day and we have to protect members of Congress. And for them to come and say, thank you for your service, and appreciate what you do, but you don't, because this is very simple, just having a commission to find out what happened, so this doesn't happen again.

    Because I personally feel that, again, this is something that there's a very real threat moving forward.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Your lawsuit charges President Trump himself with directing and enabling this attack. Why focus on him? Why do you believe he's responsible?

  • James Blassingame:

    Well, there's no shortage of people that are responsible, but I think that the most powerful human being on the planet, if the most powerful human being on the planet can — is not held accountable, can do whatever they want to do, what does that say about our democracy as a whole?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, now, we have reached out to the former president for comment on your lawsuit. We have not heard back from them at this point.

    At this time, there's also a report we just got yesterday from the Senate, a bipartisan report. And among the findings in that report was one that the U.S. Capitol Police was not adequately prepared to prevent or respond to the January 6 security threats, which contributed to the breach to have the Capitol.

    Do you agree with that?

  • James Blassingame:

    I don't speak for the department.

    I think the report speaks for itself. I think there are things that could have been done to put officers in a position to be successful that weren't done.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Do you think the U.S. Capitol is secure right now?

  • James Blassingame:

    I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    James Blassingame, Patrick Malone, thank you very much for talking with us and sharing your story.

  • James Blassingame:

    Thank you.

  • Patrick Malone:

    Good to be with you.

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