Officials in charge of security for the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 blamed poor intelligence and a sluggish response from the federal government Tuesday for the deadly riot that threatened the peaceful transfer of power.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified at a joint Senate committee hearing on security and intelligence failings leading up to the riot that intelligence reports compiled from information from the Capitol Police, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security and Washington Metropolitan Police showed that “the level of probability of acts of civil disobedience/arrests” on Jan. 6 ranged from “remote” to “improbable.”
“In addition, the daily intelligence report indicated that ‘the secretary of homeland security has not issued an elevated or imminent alert at this time,'” Sund testified.
“Without the intelligence to properly prepare, the USCP was significantly outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent mob,” he said.
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That’s despite significant online chatter and numerous media reports that protesters were targeting the electoral vote count during the joint session of Congress. Asked about a Jan. 5 threat report from the FBI’s field office outside Norfolk, Virginia, that detailed specific calls online for violence at the Capitol, including that protesters be ready to fight and show up ready for war, Sund testified that it had gone to an intelligence official with the Capitol Police and that he had not seen it.
Robert Contee, acting chief of the Washington police, said he had not seen the memo, which was “not fully vetted,” on Jan. 6, either.
“What the FBI sent, ma’am, on Jan. 5 was in the form of an email,” he said, adding that he would think a warning “that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something.”
The former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms also testified that they did not see the FBI memo.
National Guard delay
Contee said that he and Sund called the National Guard for help shortly after the mob stormed the Capitol and that he was dismayed by the response he received from the Army.
“At 2:22 p.m., a call was convened with, among others, myself, leadership of the Capitol Police, the D.C. National Guard, and the Department of the Army,” Contee said. “I was stunned at the response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol. While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception — the factors cited by the staff on the call — these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted.
“I was able to quickly deploy MPD and issue directives to them while they were in the field, and I was honestly shocked that the National Guard could not — or would not — do the same,” he added.
Sund said in his prepared remarks that Army Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt said on the conference call that he didn’t like “the visual of the National Guard standing a line with the Capitol in the background” and would rather that Capitol Police officers be pulled from other posts to handle the protesters.
Sund added later that the “first 150 members of the National Guard were not sworn in on Capitol grounds until 5:40 p.m., 4½ hours after I first requested them and 3½ hours after my request was approved by the Capitol Police Board.”
In his opening statement, Sund also blamed former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger for the sluggish response.
Sund said he had tried to enlist the National Guard for help in the days before the riot, but “Irving stated that he was concerned about the ‘optics’ of having National Guard present and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it.”
Sund said he also asked Stenger for help ahead of time. “Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr. Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed and to ‘lean forward’ in case we had to request assistance on January 6,” he said.
Sund said the pair were also slow to respond during the riot.
“I notified the two sergeant-at-arms by 1:09 p.m. that I urgently needed support and asked them to declare a state of emergency and authorize the National Guard,” Sund said. “I was advised by Mr. Irving that he needed to run it up the chain of command. I continued to follow up with Mr. Irving, who was with Mr. Stenger at the time, and he advised that he was waiting to hear back from congressional leadership but expected authorization at any moment.”
Irving pushed back against Sund’s account, saying he didn’t recall speaking to him at that time, had no record of any phone calls or text messages from Sund and never said he had to run Sund’s request up the chain of command.
He also denied that he’d voiced any concern about “optics.”
“That is categorically false,” Irving said. “‘Optics,’ as portrayed in the media, did not determine our security posture. Safety was always paramount when evaluating security for January 6. We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no, the intelligence did not warrant that.”
Republicans defend witnesses
Sund, Stenger and Irving resigned after the riot, which left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Police officers were able to regain control of the building with help from the National Guard and federal law enforcement officers after several hours, and the vote counting was completed. More than 200 people have been criminally charged.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., whom some Democrats have blamed for inciting the violence by announcing that he would challenge the legitimacy of some states’ electors during the vote count, defended Sund, Stenger and Irving during his question period.
Hawley noted that retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has tasked with leading a review of the Capitol’s security, had called Capitol Police leadership “complicit” in the attack because of the poor response. He asked the trio whether they were complicit, and they responded, “Absolutely not.”
“Yeah, of course none of you were. There’s absolutely no evidence to that effect,” Hawley said. “To allege that you, any of you, were complicit in this violent mob attack on this building, I think, is not only extremely disrespectful. It’s really quite shocking.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., meanwhile, read from an article falsely blaming the violence at the Capitol on “antifa,” “fake Trump protesters” and “provocateurs.”
Johnson asked Sund whether he believed the attack was foreseeable or predictable — Sund said it wasn’t — and then asked whether his belief was based on past experiences, suggesting that “the vast majority of Trump supporters are pro-law enforcement, and the last thing they’d do is violate the law.”
A recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll found that 58 percent of Republicans believe the Capitol riot to have been “mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters.” That’s despite a number of perpetrators’ being members of various right-wing extremist groups and the attack’s having been planned and promoted on a number of right-wing forums.
A harrowing account
The joint hearing before the Rules Committee and the Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, which explored why officials weren’t better prepared for the attack, began with a harrowing account of the riot from a Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha C. Mendoza, an Army veteran.
“Of the multitude of events I’ve worked in my nearly 19-year career on the department, this was by far the worst of the worst,” Mendoza said. “We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us and I still believe this battle would have been just as devastating.”
Mendoza, who had just finished a 16-hour shift, was called back in after it became clear that the situation was “bad.”
“En route, I heard officers at the Capitol Building calling for immediate assistance,” she said, adding: “As I arrived to the East Front Plaza of the Capitol, I heard an officer yell there was a breach at the rotunda door, and I heard various other officers calling for assistance in multiple locations throughout the building.
“Once inside the Memorial Door, I immediately noticed a large crowd of possibly 200 rioters yelling in front of me,” she said. “Since I was alone, I turned to go back out so I could enter through another door, but within the few seconds it took to walk back to the door I entered, there were already countless rioters outside banging on the door. I had no choice but to proceed through the violent crowd already in the building.”
“At some point, my right arm got wedged between the rioters and railing along the wall. A CDU sergeant pulled my arm free and had he not, I’m certain it would have been broken,” Mendoza said.
“I proceeded to the Rotunda, where I noticed a heavy smoke-like residue and smelled what I believed to be military-grade CS gas — a familiar smell,” she said. “It was mixed with fire extinguisher spray deployed by the rioters. The rioters continued to deploy CS inside the rotunda.”
“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Mendoza said.
The chair of the Rules Committee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the hearing was planned entirely “on a bipartisan basis. That’s because the stakes are so high.” It’s the first of a series of hearings the committees will conduct as part of their investigation into the attack.
Another hearing will be held next week with “the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI because clearly we have, and our members have, additional questions,” Klobuchar said.