An FBI warning that a protest by Donald Trump’s supporters could be violent reached the US Capitol police the day before the deadly attack, but top officials responsible for securing Congress that day did not see it, they told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Officials told two Senate panels investigating failures before the January 6 attack that the intelligence service they received did not prepare them for hundreds of Trump supporters, many worked in teams and had tactical tools and stormed the building.
They gave conflicting accounts of conversations before the attack on whether to call in National Guard support and what if any role is involved in keeping the appearance of an open Capitol building played in the security flaw.
One of the four, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, told senators he did not see a bulletin issued by the FBI’s office in Norfolk, Virginia on Jan. 5, warning law enforcement agencies that extremists were preparing to commit violence.
“None of the intelligence we predicted predicted what actually happened,” Sund said, referring to scenes in which Trump supporters attacked police, smashed windows and loaded through the Capitol scanner “Hang Mike Pence.”
“We planned properly for a mass demonstration with possible violence,” Sund said. “What we got was a coordinated attack on my military-style officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol Building.”
The attack was an attempt to stop Congress, with former Vice President Pence present, from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s election victory over Republican Trump, who wrongly claimed that the election had been embezzled by widespread fraud.
The former sergeants of the House of Representatives and Senate, Paul Irving and Michael Stenger, also testified on Tuesday, saying they did not see the FBI alert.
All three resigned in the wake of the violence, which shook the world, threatened a peaceful transfer of power and threatened the lives of lawmakers and Pence, leading to former President Trump’s second indictment.
Concern about “optics”?
The Capitol Building, which hosts 535 members of Congress, has long been open to visitors and guests in a way that the White House has not been for decades. Passers-by could almost walk to the building’s steps and before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was still open to tourists who had to enter through a special visitor’s entrance.
Sund said he had requested that National Guard troops be deployed at the Capitol in a conversation with Irving and Stenger two days before the riot, but that Irving had expressed concern about “optics” for using the troops.
Irving, however, said he did not remember the discussion as a request and denied completely that he had been worried about appearances.
“We discussed whether the intelligence service justified having troops at the Capitol. The collective verdict at the time was no – the intelligence service did not justify it,” Irving told the committees.
Sund and Irving also gave conflicting accounts of their communication on the chaotic day of the attack. Sund said he had called Irving at 1:09 p.m. to ask for National Guard troops as members of the mob fought with the Capitol Police at the steel mass control barriers outside the building. Irving said he had no record of a call then.
“There seems to be some confusion about the basic facts and who asked what, when,” said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley. Senators asked for telephone directories.
Washington, DC, metropolitan police rushed to the scene after Sund requested their help at 12:58 p.m., the city’s acting police chief Robert Contee told senators.
His forces helped the Capitol police control the mob and eventually clear the Capitol so that lawmakers could return to certify Biden’s victory.
But Contee said he was shocked by a conversation between the authorities at 14:22 when he heard Sund appeal to Pentagon officials that the National Guard should be deployed.
Army officials were reluctant and expressed concern about what it would look like, Contee said, adding, “I was surprised by that response.”
The first members of the National Guard did not appear on the Capitol grounds until 17:40, Sund said.
U.S. media reports say congressional leaders and security officials did not want to see the same militarized presence around the Capitol that was stationed around the White House during anti-racism protests during the summer.
Several police officers were attacked in close combat, with over 140 Capitol Police and about 65 metropolitan police officers injured.
More than 200 people have so far been accused of their roles in the riot, including some with ties to right-wing extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
Senators plan next week to call witnesses from the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
Democratic Senator Gary Peters said the incident revealed clear gaps in intelligence services around domestic extremists: “The federal government must begin to take these threats online seriously, to ensure they do not turn into real violence.”