Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings
Former Capitol security officials clashed publicly on Tuesday over the events surrounding last month’s deadly assault on the Capitol complex, casting blame at the intelligence community and the Pentagon while delivering conflicting accounts of how the tragedy unfolded.
Here are five takeaways from the day’s proceedings.
Congress will need to probe contradictions
There were major discrepancies between former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving as they recounted their actions before and during the Jan. 6 attack. The two officials couldn’t even agree whether a phone call had taken place between them as rioters were breaking into the building.
Sund testified that two days before the attack, he approached both Irving and then-Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger to request aid from the National Guard. Irving said he was concerned about the “optics” of a military presence at the Capitol and didn’t feel the intelligence supported it, according to Sund.
Irving rejected Sund’s account, testifying that Sund’s impression was “categorically false” and that it was the “collective judgment” of the three men that the intelligence did not warrant calling in the Guard.
With the attack underway on Jan. 6, Sund testified that he had called Irving at 1:09 p.m. to seek approval from the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to request help from the National Guard. Sund said other officials in his department personally witnessed him make the call.
But Irving said he was on the House floor at that time and doesn’t remember getting a call from Sund at 1:09. He also testified that his phone records do not show him receiving a call or text from Sund around that time. The first time he spoke to Sund that hour was at 1:28 p.m., said Irving. Irving then alerted Stenger and top aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about the need to call in the Guard. Irving said Sund did not make a formal request until after 2 p.m.
The alleged 1:09 phone call is of importance because some officials and lawmakers believe an earlier request could have prevented injuries or deaths.
Other House and Senate committees probing the attack could request or subpoena phone records that could clear up the discrepancy, shedding more light on the credibility of the two officials.
FBI warning of ‘war’ never reached police chiefs
There were numerous intelligence failures on Jan. 6, but one of the most glaring is the fact that the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) and D.C. Metro police chiefs had not seen an FBI report sent Jan. 5 warning that pro-Trump protesters were preparing for “war” at the Capitol.
The FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Va., had issued a Jan. 5 bulletin detailing specific calls for violence at the Capitol, including urging protesters go to the Capitol “ready for war.”
Sund testified that he only learned in the past 24 hours that Capitol Police had received the bulletin. An officer assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI received the report, which then was forwarded to an official at the Intelligence Division at U.S. Capitol Police headquarters. But it was never sent up the chain of command.
Acting D.C. Metro Police Chief Robert Contee and the two sergeants-at-arms also had not seen the FBI memo. Contee said his department did receive an email from the FBI, but that he believed “something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call,” noting that he leaves his mobile phone on 24 hours a day so he can be available.
The attack was highly coordinated
The insurrectionists came to the Capitol wearing tactical gear and carrying firearms, bats, shields, bear spray and other weapons. They brought climbing gear so they could get past some of the Capitol’s security features. And they communicated with handheld radios and hand signals.
The security officials testified that is all evidence of a highly coordinated and planned assault, and not a spontaneous act. And they suggested, as a result, it was not a failure of planning that led to the anarchic scene at the Capitol.
“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong. No single civilian law enforcement agency – and certainly not the USCP – is trained and equipped to repel … an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” Sund said.
He also testified that pipe bombs discovered outside the Republican and Democratic headquarters near the Capitol were likely planted to draw officers away from the building.
Dozens of those charged in the Jan. 6 riot are members of the right-wing militant groups Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters.
The witnesses Tuesday “may have disagreed on some details, but there is clear agreement this was a planned insurrection,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who noted it involved white supremacists and extremist groups and could have been even worse.
Controversy swirls around ‘The Ragin’ Cajun’
When Pelosi tapped Russel Honoré to lead an assessment of the Capitol’s security apparatus, it was seen as a safe and savvy bet. Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general, had coordinated the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and had won acclaim from both sides of the aisle in doing so.
But at Tuesday’s hearing, several Senate Republicans hammered Honoré, citing his recent comments declaring that a significant portion of the Capitol Police force are “Trumpsters,” while suggesting that leaders of the force were “complicit” in the Jan. 6 attack.
Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), who led the Republican effort to overturn the presidential election results on Jan. 6, was quick to highlight those comments, asking Sund, Stenger and Irving if they were complicit. All of them were adamant in their denials, and Sund went a step further to criticize Honoré for the remarks.
“I think it’s disrespectful to myself and to the members of the Capitol Police Department,” Sund said.
Capitol security fence is universally unpopular
If there is one issue that unites all sides almost two months after the attack, it’s that the imposing security fence equipped with coils of barbed wire surrounding the Capitol complex should come down.
Republicans have hammered the fencing as a Democratic ploy to create the impression that Trump supporters pose a severe and ongoing threat to the Capitol and its occupants, while Democrats say it limits access and makes a fortress of the country’s most celebrated emblem of democracy.
“This is a public building. And you want the school groups, and you want the veterans, and you want people to be able to visit here,” Klobuchar said. She called for “some smart security changes to the complex” but added that “no, it does not have to be barbed wire.”
John Bowden and Rebecca Beitsch contributed.