Senate investigation of insurrection falls short

Senate investigation of insurrection falls short
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On June 8, the Senate released the report of its investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. The report confirms much of what we already know and provides some new insights, but it leaves many questions unanswered, skirting key issues that should have been squarely addressed. Its shortcomings reveal the need for a more thorough investigation.

The 127-page report prepared jointly by the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Committee on Rules and Administration addresses “the security, planning, and response failures” of  the Capitol Police and Capitol Police Board, “along with critical breakdowns involving several federal agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and Department of Defense (“DOD”).” It focuses narrowly on intelligence sharing prior to the attack, security preparations for the joint session of Congress and the response to the Capitol breach. Within days of the insurrection, reports surfaced about warnings not being communicated to the Capitol Police. Chief Steven Sund, who resigned after the insurrection, insisted he had not received intelligence on an “orchestrated attack.” His successor, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman reiterated this denial. 

The Senate report confirms that important intelligence never reached Sund and his officers. The intelligence arm of the Capitol Police “failed to convey the full scope of threat information they possessed.” On Jan. 5, the FBI did receive information being discussed online of potential violence to be inflicted on Jan. 6, but they didn’t effectively communicate about it to the Capitol Police. 

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Anyone who watched events unfold on Jan. 6 saw how unprepared the Capitol Police were for the mob attack. The report confirms this observation. Capitol Police leadership did not have “a department-wide operational plan for the joint session [of Congress].” Officers also lacked training and many were not issued riot gear.

The report does not adequately explain the delay in deploying the District of Columbia National Guard (DCNA). It blames an “opaque process” and the chief’s lack of authority. Only the Capitol Police Board (Sergeants at Arms of both houses and the Architect of the Capitol) can approve a request for guard support. Sund claims that on Jan. 6, he called House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving at 12:58 p.m., asking him to declare a state of emergency and call in the DCNA, but Irving says Sund did not make the request until after 2:00 p.m.. Officials at the DOD, under whose authority the DC guard falls, claim they did not get a “workable” request until 2:30. p.m. Troops arrived at the capital around 5:20 p.m. DOD officials insisted they needed time to prepare for the deployment, but the commanding general of the DCNA said his troops were ready and criticized the delay.

The report also fails to adequately explain why the guard did not deploy to the Capitol before the insurrection. Sund “never submitted a formal request to the Capitol Police Board for National Guard support in advance of January 6,” but he did have “informal talks” with the sergeants at arms of the House and Senate concerning the matter. 

Sund claimed that on Jan. 4 he approached Irving about requesting DCNG support, but that Irving was concerned about the “optics” of the guards presence in the Capitol and said that the intelligence was insufficient to warrant it. Irving emphatically denied this. Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger also did not approve the request. Conversations among the three were not recorded, so it is hard to know who to believe. Clearly, there is much more to the story.

The report leaves many other questions unanswered. As one commentator concluded, it details what went wrong but not why. The investigators appended former President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE’s Save America rally speech to their report but did not consider whether his remarks incited violence. According to the New York Times, the bipartisan nature of the investigation seriously limited its scope, as “Republicans refused to ask questions about the riot that could turn up unflattering information about Mr. Trump or members of their party.” Lack of cooperation also hampered the investigation. The DHS and the Department of Justice did not “fully comply with the Committees’ information requests” and the Office of the House Sergeant at Arms “did not comply” at all. The measured tone of the report does not disguise the palpable frustration of its authors. They point to matters they were prevented from exploring, no doubt hoping someone else will look into them.

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Looking at the perpetrators was beyond the scope of the investigation, even though 465 people have been arrested for crimes allegedly committed on Jan. 6. Sixteen members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government paramilitary militia group, and 60 members of the Proud Boys, another extremist group, have also been charged, some of them for conspiracy. Their trials should reveal more about the organization and planning behind the insurrection.

The limitations of the Senate investigation underscore the need for a nonpartisan commission with subpoena power to investigate the insurrection. It would be modeled on the 9/11 Commission. Senate Republicans blocked a House bill to create such a commission, dismissing it as a purely partisan measure. Evidently, many Republicans fear that such a commission would uncover information that could hurt their chances in the 2022 midterms. Any easy solution to that problem would be for the commission to withhold its report until after the next election. 

The proposal for an independent commission may be dead, but the demand for a more thorough investigation is not. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already indicated that she may convene a select committee or direct the House Homeland Security Committee to conduct its own inquiry. One way or another, the truth about Jan. 6 must come out.

Tom Mockaitis is professor of history and DePaul University and author of "Violent Extremists: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat."