Nearly seven weeks after the deadly insurgency on the U.S. Capitol, those tasked with protecting the building on January 6 first witnessed the failures that allowed a pro-Trump mob to invade the seat of government in disruption unprecedented democracy.
But almost all the answers they gave about what happened that day only raise more questions.
For four hours, the former U.S. Capitol Police chief and former House and Senate security chiefs largely pointed the finger at each other – or blamed others not present at the hearing – and , above all, have played down their own failures.
Senators, meanwhile, struggled to seize a golden opportunity for fact-finding, arriving late to key issues and leaving others untouched, while many – including those who amplified the allegations of electoral fraud that brought rioters to Capitol Hill initially – have the centuries-old tradition of the rostrum in committee rooms. One, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), used most of his time to read a January 6 account from a right-wing conspirator who raised the discredited theory that Trump supporters were not not responsible for the violence.
At the end of the hearing, Democrats who ran the show proclaimed it was a “constructive” exercise that “sheds new light” on what happened on January 6.
Some genuinely new information has surfaced: for example, Steven Sund, the former Capitol Police chief, said he had just learned that on January 5, the force received an FBI report warning against the violence around Trump’s rally – but that the “not to do” report to his office. When asked how authorities missed other signs of brewing violence, authorities simply said the intelligence community had not warned them enough about it.
If nothing else, the first marquee hearing probing the attack on Capitol Hill made it clear that getting a full picture of how and why January 6 played out in this way will be a difficult task. But the futility of questioning this particular set of witnesses – all seeking to protect their reputations and deflect blame – became clear at the start of Tuesday’s hearing, as Senators sought to establish a timeline for who had asked. for help and when Jan. 6.
As the crowd began to move around the perimeter of the Capitol, Sund said he called Paul Irving, then House Sergeant-at-Arms, at 1:09 p.m. to ask them to call the National Guard. He alleged that Irving told him he was concerned about the “optics” of the Guard’s presence and pushed him away.
Irving responded by saying he didn’t recall Sund calling him at the time, saying he was upstairs in the House overseeing the Electoral College certification process. He added that it was “categorically false” for him to mention optical problems in determining the security protocol on Capitol Hill.
Under oath, the two men stayed true to their stories. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) tried to fix the problem, but concluded: “What happened here does not seem to me to be in line with various time frames.” Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) then requested that they both return their call tapes for investigation.
Witnesses could agree, however, that not all were enabled to succeed on January 6 by intelligence agencies – who they said were underestimating the threat, despite evidence and open-source reporting that indicated strongly that right-wing extremists were planning ambitious and violent acts in Washington on January 6.
“Although it appears that many participants from multiple states planned this attack, the entire intelligence community seems to have missed it,” Sund said. “Without the intelligence to properly prepare, the USCP was vastly outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent mob.
Robert Contee, acting head of the DC Metropolitan Police Department and fourth witness, also said the FBI note was sent on January 5 “in the form of an email.”
Witnesses also expressed frustration that the National Guard was so slow to mobilize. Contee, whose officers arrived at an overrun Capitol to support the separate Capitol Police, has repeatedly said he was shocked by the Pentagon’s reluctance to mobilize the National Guard. When he asked, Contee recalled, “in response, there was no immediate yes”, and said army officials responded by asking him questions about the “outlook” of the situation.
“I was able to quickly deploy the MPD and give them direction while they were in the field, and I was honestly shocked that the National Guard could not – or do not – do the same,” added Contee.
The back and forth between Sund and Irving revealed, at the very least, the complicated process in place for requesting military assistance from Capitol Hill. No one is responsible for the security of the complex; instead, a secret four-person board is, and its very existence slowed response on Jan.6. Blunt called the structure “totally impractical” for crises like the Capitol uprising.
Agencies called into question by witnesses will have the opportunity to offer their side of events next week, when the FBI and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have been invited to testify before the same joint panel of the Rules Committees. of the Senate and Homeland Security. .
But on Tuesday, senators largely avoided questions that then-Capitol Police and DC Police chiefs would have been in a good position to answer. Only Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) noted, at the end of the proceedings, that only 52 rioters were immediately arrested out of the hundreds who raped the Capitol, attacked police and media and vandalized the complex. He made a comparison to the militarized posture of the complex during the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020. “Can you tell us how the preparations for the Capitol on January 6 differ from the summer protests?” Padilla asked Sund.
“It doesn’t matter what the person’s message is,” Sund replied. “We develop our information, we develop our information and we base a response plan on that.” He added that USCP agents arrested only six Black Lives Matter protesters, but many more were arrested in the city.
No senator questioned witnesses on another crucial issue: the extent to which law enforcement, if any, assisted one of the insurgents. A USCP spokesperson said last week that six officers of the force were suspended with pay due to their January 6 actions, and 29 others were under investigation. Lawmakers, such as Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), said they saw police taking selfies with rioters and giving them instructions.
These questions are likely to become fodder for an investigative body outlined by President Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), modeled on the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the insurgency. This effort might also be best suited to ultimately confirm the contested January 6 schedule and fully reveal the failures.
For now, however, the three Capitol Hill authorities – who all resigned after Jan.6 – have appeared to warn lawmakers not to overreact by proposing reforms to the Capitol Hill security protocol after the deadly riot. The very brief opening statement by Michael Stenger, the former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, said: “We must be careful not to go back to a time when possibility rather than probability guides security planning.”
In his opening written statement, Sund said that “the USCP did not fail” and that the force “accomplished its mission” on January 6, placing the blame for the carnage on the alleged failures of the intelligence services.
Asked by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sund’s challenge has faded somewhat. Klobuchar noted that authorities had enough information to know they needed to make additional preparations for Jan.6. “If there was enough information to get you to do this, why haven’t we taken further action?” she asked. “Why weren’t you and the others involved better prepared to deal with violence?”
Sund responded with the repeated statement that they were “widening the perimeter” of the building – one that was quickly raped by the mob. When Klobuchar pointed out that this was clearly not enough, Sund said, “Now is hindsight being what it is.”
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