WASHINGTON — Testifying for the first time about the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former security officials blamed faulty intelligence for the disastrous failure to anticipate the violent intentions of the mob that invaded the building and interrupted the certification of the presidential election.
What You Need To Know
- Congress heard Tuesday from the former U.S. Capitol security officials for the first time about the massive law enforcement failures on Jan. 6
- The officials pointed fingers at other federal agencies — and each other — for their failure to defend the building
- Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told the lawmakers said he learned only Monday that his officers had received a report from a FBI field office that forecast, in detail, the chances that extremists could commit “war” in Washington
- The officials also disagreed on when the National Guard was called and on requests for the guard beforehand
The officials, including the former chief of the Capitol Police, pointed fingers at other federal agencies — and each other — for their failure to defend the building as supporters of then-President Donald Trump overwhelmed security barriers, breaking windows and doors and sending lawmakers fleeing from the House and Senate chambers. They say they expected the protests to be similar to two pro-Trump events in late 2020 that were far less violent.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund described a scene that was “like nothing” he had seen in his 30 years of policing.
“I witnessed insurgents beating police officers with fists, pipes, sticks, bats, metal barricades and flagpoles. These criminals came prepared for war,” the ousted chief said, arguing that the insurrection was not the result of poor planning but of failures across the board from many agencies and officials.
“No single civilian law enforcement agency — and certainly not the USCP — is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” Sund said.
The joint hearing, part of an investigation of Jan. 6 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, is the first time the officials have testified publicly about the events of that day. In addition to Sund, former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, testified.
Sund, Irving and Stenger resigned under pressure immediately after the deadly attack.
“We must have the facts, and the answers are in this room," Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said at the beginning of the hearing.
Much remains unknown about what happened before and during the assault. How much did law enforcement agencies know about plans for violence that day, many of which were public? How did the agencies share that information with each other? And how could the Capitol Police have been so ill-prepared for a violent insurrection that was organized online?
Sund told the lawmakers that he learned only Monday that his officers had received a report from the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Virginia, that forecast, in detail, the chances that extremists could commit “war” in Washington the following day. The head of the FBI’s office in Washington has said that once he received the Jan. 5 warning, the information was quickly shared with other law enforcement agencies through the joint terrorism task force.
Sund said Tuesday that an officer on the task force had received that memo and forwarded it to a sergeant working on intelligence for the Capitol Police but that the information was not put forward to any other supervisors. Sund said he wasn’t aware of it.
Senate Homeland Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) said the failure of the intelligence report to reach the chief was clearly a major problem. “How could you not get that vital intelligence?” he asked.
“That information would have been helpful,” Sund replied.
In addition to being unaware of the FBI intelligence, Sund said the Department of Homeland Security secretary did not issue any alerts that would have suggested the department should have been prepared for such a violent episode.
Sund told lawmakers that, based on the information available to it, his department “properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence," but "what we got was a military-style coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol building."
The officials also disagreed on when the National Guard was called and on requests for the guard beforehand. Sund said he spoke to both Stenger and Irving about requesting the National Guard in the days before the riot, and that Irving said he was concerned about the “optics” of having them present.
Irving denied that, saying Sund's account is “categorically false.” Safety, not optics, determined their security posture, he said, and the top question was whether intelligence supported the decision.
“We all agreed the intelligence did not support the troops and collectively decided to let it go,” Stenger said. He added that they were satisfied at the time that there was a "robust" plan to protect Congress.
As for the day of the attack, Sund testified that he requested the National Guard be called at 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6. Irving, who was one of Sund’s supervisors, said he didn’t receive a request until after 2 p.m. Irving said he did not remember Sund making a request at 1:09 and that his phone records don’t show the call.
Rioters breached the Capitol’s west side just after 2 p.m.
Contee testified that he was “stunned” over the delayed response to a request for National Guard help. He said Sund was “pleading” with Army officials to deploy Guard troops as the violence rapidly escalated.
Metropolitan Police officers joined to help U.S. Capitol Police during the attack.
Contee said police officers “were out there literally fighting for their lives” but the officials on the call appeared to be going through a ”check the boxes” exercise asking about the optics of stationing National Guard troops at the Capitol. Contee says there “was not an immediate response.”
After smashing through the barriers at the perimeter, the invaders engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police officers, injuring dozens of them, and broke through multiple windows and doors, sending lawmakers fleeing from the House and Senate chambers and interrupting the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Five people died as a result of the violence, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break through the doors of the House chamber with lawmakers still inside.
In heartbreaking testimony, which was previously unannounced, Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza started the hearing by recounting the horrific events of the riot, including saying that "officers received a lot of gas exposure" and that she herself sustained "chemical burns to my face," which, she says, "still have not healed."
"We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating," Mendoza described, saying that she was activated early due to an extreme need for help while having lunch with her 10-year-old child.
"As an American and a veteran, it’s sad to see us attacked by our fellow Americans," Mendoza said, adding that Jan. 6 was "by far the worst of the worst" day she's faced on duty.
"In my career I've been activated to work demonstrations with various controversial groups and have been called some of the worst names so many times that I'm pretty numb to it now," she added.
Mendoza worked in recovery efforts during the attack on the Pentagon after 9/11.
"There are certain lessons that always stuck with me after 9/11,” she said. “One of those lessons is knowing the unthinkable is always possible — so be ready.
"I know some said the battle lasted three hours," she said, "But according to my Fitbit, I was in the exercise zone for 4 hours, and 9 minutes."
The hearing is the first of many examinations of what happened that day, coming almost seven weeks after the attack and over one week after the Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of inciting the insurrection by telling his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat. Thousands of National Guard troops still surround the Capitol in a wide perimeter, cutting off streets and sidewalks that are normally full of cars, pedestrians and tourists.
Congress is also considering a bipartisan, independent commission to review the missteps, and multiple congressional committees have said they will look at different aspects of the siege. Federal law enforcement have arrested more than 230 people who were accused of being involved in the attack, and President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, said in his confirmation hearing Monday that investigating the riots would be a top priority.