FBI director faces lawmaker frustration over Capitol breach

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday resisted pinning the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol on a single extremist ideology while lawmakers aired their frustrations with the bureau’s work leading up to the riot.

In his first appearance before Congress since the attack, Wray made clear the FBI deemed the day’s events a case of domestic terrorism.

"That attack, that siege, was criminal behavior, plain and simple, and it’s behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism," Wray told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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"Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it's not going away anytime soon," he added.

Wray acknowledged an increase in domestic terrorism over the last four years but resisted calls to characterize those involved by any one motivation.

While fielding repeated questions from lawmakers over who was primarily responsible for the attack on the Capitol, Wray explicitly dismissed any involvement from “fake Trump supporters” in the attacks.

“There's no doubt that it included individuals that we would call militia violent extremists and then in some instances individuals that were racially motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” he said, adding that those with militia ties are “the biggest bucket.”

Wray said the number of domestic terrorism investigations had roughly doubled since he took the helm of the FBI at the beginning of the Trump administration, from roughly 1,000 cases each year to 2,000 cases by the end of 2020.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle used the hearing to encourage the FBI to increase resources geared toward combating extremist ideologies associated with their political competitors.

Prior to the hearing, Democrats pushed the FBI to further break down how it categorizes racially motivated extremists and anti-government extremists to help account for the extent to which white nationalists and far-right extremists might be responsible for attacks.

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But several Republicans likewise pushed for increased scrutiny for left-leaning groups.

"It’s been a relatively frequent sight at the summer's violent events to see individuals acting in coordination, holding the 'A' symbol of antifa," Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Capitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions MORE (R-Iowa) said, noting the protests in Portland, Ore. 

"In light of these ever-present left-wing threats, I’m concerned about 'resource shifting' talk among Congressional Democrats. ... We must examine the issue of domestic terrorism broadly to include the left and right wing of the political spectrum," he continued. "No serious oversight activity and no serious policy decisions can be done without doing so."

Wray seemingly dismissed such requests from both sides, noting that the agency had not shifted any resources under the direction of the Trump administration and would continue to focus on anyone who presents a risk.

"We don't care whether it's left, right, up, down, diagonal or any other way. If the ideology is motivating violence and violates federal law, we're coming after it," he said.

But the hearing also revealed that Wray, like many other top law enforcement officials, was not aware of a Jan. 5 report from the FBI’s Norfolk field office that detailed specific calls for violence on Jan. 6, including those that suggested protesters go to the Capitol “ready for war.”

"I didn't see that report, which was raw and unverified intelligence, until some number of days after the 6th," he said.

According to Wray, that report was distributed by email, through a law enforcement portal and verbally.

"Given the press of time, given the specificity of it, even though it sounded somewhat aspirational in nature and was unverified, the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just to push it to the people who needed to get it," he said.

But former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and his replacement, Yogananda Pittman, both recently testified that the report never reached the highest ranks at the department, while acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said that "something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call."

Wray sidestepped a question from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-S.C.) asking what security forces should have done differently if they had seen the Norfolk report, telling the senator he didn’t want to play “armchair quarterback.”

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) grilled Wray and the FBI for failing to do more to highlight the report.

"What I don't understand is why this chatter, raw intelligence, didn't prompt a stronger warning and alarm going to the very top of the United States Congress because clearly the United States Congress was under severe threat," he said.

Wray told lawmakers he did not consider the events of Jan. 6 "to be an acceptable result."

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"Anytime there's an attack, especially one that's this horrific that strikes right at the heart of our system of government right at the time a transfer of power is being discussed, you can be darn tootin' that we are focused very, very hard on how can we get better sources, better information, better analysis so that we can make sure that something like what happened on Jan. 6 never happens again," he said.

The FBI has arrested 280 people in connection with the attacks, with a total of 300 facing charges.

Wray also highlighted challenges in tracking domestic terrorists, ranging from shifts in ideology to the complications of social media and encrypted messaging apps.

"One of the things that we struggle with in particular is that more and more the ideologies, if you will, that are motivating some of the violent extremists are less and less coherent, less and less linear, less and less easy to kind of pin down," he said, adding that people are getting involved with "increasingly blended ideologies."

Wray noted that some 270,000 people had given tips to the FBI following the attack, in some cases with people turning in friends and family, asking that people continue to report concerning behavior.

"Trying to figure out who's just saying, you know, 'What we ought to do is X' or 'Everybody ought to do X' versus the person who's doing that and actually getting traction and then getting followers. And of course that's assuming they're not communicating through encrypted channels about all that stuff is one of the hardest things there is to do in today's world," he said.

Wray also faced pressure to ensure that anyone with a law enforcement or military background who was involved in the attack is referred to their higher-ups for review.

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“The threat, the danger that those few bad apples present are to be taken very seriously,” Sen. Alex PadillaAlex PadillaBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Nearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (D-Calif.) said.

Wray said the FBI had referred people for possible administrative or disciplinary action.

"We work very closely with both our law enforcement partners and our military partners in their efforts to address any kind of violent extremism that may be in their midst," he said. "We view that as, in effect, a kind of insider threat."