National Security

Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack

Law enforcement officials responsible for protecting the Capitol the day it was overrun by a violent mob pointed fingers at the intelligence community — and one another — as Congress on Tuesday began an expansive review of the security failures surrounding Jan. 6.

The hearing was the first time former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger — all of whom resigned in the days following the attack — appeared publicly to answer questions about their role. Robert Contee, the acting chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, also testified on the day’s events.

Their testimony portrayed a Capitol caught off guard by the sheer number of rioters and their level of preparedness due to a lack of shared intelligence, which seems to have predicted an attack that both security officials and senators characterized as coordinated.

“One of the clear pieces of information we’ve learned today is an intelligence failure,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). “Not necessarily a failure of intelligence, but of a failure to communicate intelligence.”

But the public forum also revealed sharp disagreements among security leaders over the deliberations that delayed the arrival of National Guard reinforcements. Sund and Irving, in particular, painted starkly different portraits of who sounded the alarm — and when — in a high-stakes blame game that will only complicate congressional efforts to discover what went wrong.

“A clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies contributed to this event, and not poor planning by the United States Capitol Police,” Sund told lawmakers in his opening remarks, blaming the intelligence community for failing to relay that a violent attack was being planned across multiple states.

“We properly planned for mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military-style coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol Building.”

Irving echoed that sentiment, telling lawmakers, “We all believed that the plan met the threat and that we were prepared. We now know that we had the wrong plan.”

The testimony also showed there were breakdowns in internal intelligence sharing within the Capitol security forces, as Sund said he never received a Jan. 5 report from the FBI warning of the potential for violence the next day.

Sund said he learned only Monday that Capitol Police had received the report by email ahead of the attack but that it was not shared beyond a few officers tasked with intelligence matters.

“It did not go any further than that,” he told senators.

The hearing, a joint effort between the Senate Rules and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, is just the first of many from the upper chamber, which earlier this month requested information from 22 law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“We are thankful for the heroic actions of so many who ensured this direct attack on our democracy failed,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Tuesday.

“But there’s no question that there were colossal breakdowns in the intelligence gathering and security preparations leading up to the events of Jan. 6, as well as during the coordination and response efforts once the attack got underway.”

The hearings come as lawmakers seek answers about why Capitol security forces were caught flat footed by rioters and why there was such hesitancy to reach out for assistance.

“First and foremost in many of our minds is what took so long to deploy the National Guard that day,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Rules Committee, said.

Yet the contrasting narratives from the former Capitol security officials, at least on that topic, led to more questions than answers. And several exchanges revealed Sund and Irving were still deeply divided over the basic facts, including whether Sund ever even made a 1:09 p.m. call to the former House sergeant-at-arms.

Sund, for instance, said he’d gone to Irving’s office on Jan. 4 — two days before the attack — and “requested the National Guard.” Irving, Sund said, had demurred, citing “optical” concerns about militarizing the Capitol on the day of expected protests — a version of events roundly disputed by Irving.

Irving said he had not rebuffed requests to contact the National Guard prior to Jan. 6 but instead characterized it as an “offer” that Sund had received to help with traffic control. Irving, his Senate counterpart Stenger and another official decided to leave 125 troops on standby.

“I did not take it as a request. He was merely informing me that he had received an offer from the National Guard,” Irving said. “And then when we included Mr. Stenger, the three of us discussed the specific issue as to whether the intelligence warranted the troops, and the answer was no.”

There was also sharp disagreement over the events of Jan. 6. Sund said he made two phone calls to Irving — at 1:09 p.m. and 1:22 p.m. — amplifying his request for Guard reinforcements. Irving denied that those conversations happened, saying he didn’t receive the first call and that the second came closer to 1:30 p.m.

“Had I received a call at that time, I had everyone with me. I had Mr. Stenger, leadership — we would have approved it immediately,” Irving testified. “So I have no recollection of that call, and neither do I have a record of it.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) requested the witnesses forward their cellphone records to the committee.

Contee, the D.C. police chief, told lawmakers he was stunned that more than an hour into the attack, Capitol security forces were still debating whether to call for the Guard.

“I was surprised at the reluctance to immediately send the National Guard to the Capitol grounds,” he said.

Initially hailed as an emblem of bipartisan cooperation, Tuesday’s proceedings also highlighted the partisan nature of the Jan. 6 attack, which was perpetrated by supporters of then-President Trump who were convinced his defeat was a fraud and sought to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s ascension to the White House.

Several of Trump’s congressional allies used Tuesday’s hearing to defend the former president for his role in the Capitol siege. At one point, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a staunch Trump ally, suggested the attack was conducted, at least in part, by “provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” — an account disputed by law enforcers and countless hours of video footage from the assault.

Lawmakers are set to hear more from the intelligence community next week, when the same two committees will hold a hearing with leaders of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Angus King Donald Trump Gary Peters Joe Biden Ron Johnson Ted Cruz

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