On the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was meeting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, a violent and heavily armed mob of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol. While lawmakers and staff were shepherded to secure locations or barricaded behind doors, the rioters pushed past severely outnumbered Capitol Police officers, breaking windows and vandalizing offices, many with disturbingly violent intentions toward members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence for their having refused to succumb to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in his favor. Five people were killed, including one Capitol Police officer who was beaten by rioters.
The attempted coup was not a spontaneous act. “The invasion of the U.S. Capitol … was stoked in plain sight,” ProPublica reported, with Trump supporters having for weeks discussed openly their plans for a violent overthrow. Their goal of stopping the election certification, based on unfounded conspiracy theories of widespread voter fraud, was encouraged by elected officials like Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Paul Gosar, Sen. Josh Hawley, and Sen. Ted Cruz. The biggest instigator, of course, was the former president himself, who for months had fanned the flames of conspiracy and earlier that day urged the crowd to march to the Capitol and “fight.”
But beyond the important issue of who was complicit in inciting the seditious and violent attack, questions remain about how the mob was able to so easily breach Capitol security and why it took so long to secure the building. Just 1,400 Capitol Police officers were on duty at the time, and National Guardsmen didn’t arrive until hours after the invasion began. As Americans watched the rioters storm through the building, news reports circulated that the Pentagon — which has authority over the D.C. National Guard — and the president had initially denied requests for the deployment of Guardsmen.
The delay in National Guard deployment has been at the center of ongoing unresolved questions about what was happening behind the scenes, including regarding the timeline of the deployment authorization. A Pentagon inspector general report said that the D.C. National Guard was informed of the authorization at 4:35 p.m. on Jan. 6, but the Guard maintained it was not told until 5:08. (Documents we obtained in early 2022 show that acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen sent an email at 4:27 p.m. saying that he had heard from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy that the troops were on their way to the Capitol.) In court filings made in April 2022, the House select committee investigating the attack said that it was “clear” that Trump had “never telephoned his Secretary of Defense that day to order deployment of National Guard, and never contacted any federal law enforcement agency to order security assistance to the Capitol Police.”
Public reporting has revealed that, during the attack’s first three hours, Trump watched the violence play out on TV, ignoring calls from allies and others to call off the mob. Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, reportedly pleaded with her father to act and was later called to testify before the select committee.
In the days following the attack, federal law enforcement did not brief the public. Information about the events was shared largely through media reports and interviews, in which various officials pointed fingers. Capitol Police — an agency with a budget larger than that of most major-city police forces — are part of the legislative branch, thus not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and have been heavily criticized in the past for not releasing information to the public.
Since the attack, American Oversight has obtained several important public records that shed more light on the events of Jan. 6 and the surrounding days. Justice Department call logs show a number of calls between top department officials and the White House on the afternoon and evening of the attack, and timelines from the Secret Service detail agency activities that day, including those undertaken by agents who were part of Vice President Mike Pence’s detail. We also obtained a Jan. 5 Secret Service briefing on planned demonstrations around D.C., as well as a note about a Jan. 3 call with top officials from the Departments of Defense, the Army, Justice, the Interior, and Homeland Security.
In March 2021, American Oversight obtained copies of the fake electoral slates from Trump supporters in seven states in support of Trump after the November 2020 election. The documents, part of the former president’s desperate bid to cling to power in his final months in office, drew significant scrutiny in the House’s investigation of the efforts to disrupt the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s win.
By the spring of 2022, the select committee had spoken to more than 650 witnesses and issued nearly 100 subpoenas for testimony. In March 2022, the Washington Post and CBS News reported that records turned over to the committee from the White House showed a gap of more than seven hours in Trump’s phone records from that day, including during times that the president made and received calls that had since been publicly reported.
In April, the select committee obtained more than 100 emails from Trump lawyer John Eastman, after a federal judge ruled against Eastman’s assertion of attorney-client privilege. In his ruling, the judge wrote that Trump had “more likely than not” committed felony obstruction in his efforts to overturn his loss. But numerous questions still remain about the planning of and response to the riot.
As the public demands answers, American Oversight has filed dozens of FOIA requests and six federal lawsuits against multiple agencies to learn more about how the federal government — including the Defense Department, the White House, and federal law enforcement agencies — responded to the attack. We’ve requested related communications and directives, and are also seeking any assessments about the threat of militia violence that were prepared in advance of the attack by the FBI, the Pentagon, or the Department of Homeland Security. We are also seeking the communications of top Defense and Army officials with Trump or Vice President Pence, as well as officials’ communications with Fox News hosts and Trump campaign associates.