News Roundup: Capitol Attack Intelligence Failures and the National Voter-Suppression Frenzy

From left to right: Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, former U.S. House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, and U.S. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza. (Photos: C-SPAN)

The Big Story

On Tuesday, the Senate committees on homeland security and rules held a hearing on the security failures of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Among the witnesses were the former heads of Capitol security, each of whom resigned following the insurrection, who blamed intelligence failures for the breach and offered conflicting accounts of conversations that took place during the attack.
“None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred,” said former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. “We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military-style, coordinated assault.” 

Sund and Robert Contee III, the acting chief of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, both also explained their failure to act on an FBI intelligence report from the day before the attack that warned of likely violence, and said that intelligence agencies need to pay greater attention to the threat of domestic extremism. They also testified that top defense officials delayed in authorizing the deployment of National Guard troops to the Capitol. A second Senate hearing is expected next week with witnesses from the FBI and the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, and you can read more about our investigation of Jan. 6 security failures here.

Investigating the complicity of those who instigated the attack — damage from which is estimated to cost more than $30 million — is another urgent matter, made more serious by the involvement of dozens of state and local government officials in promoting or attending the “Stop the Steal” rally, and the even greater numbers of officials who have given wings to lies about voter fraud, or have continued to punish national Republicans who do not exhibit unquestioning fealty to former President Trump or the most extreme fringes of the party.

Other related stories we’ve been following:

  • Close ally of Marjorie Taylor Greene among those in Capitol mob (CNN)
  • Missouri AG’s office had invite to Jan. 5 conference call by group urging Capitol march (Kansas City Star) — see also our investigation into the involvement of that group, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which sent out a robocall urging people to march to the Capitol.
  • Congressman Andy Biggs coordinated efforts with Mark Finchem before Capitol riot (Phoenix New Times) — more on State Rep. Finchem here and here.
The Voter-Suppression Frenzy

Those lies about widespread voter fraud bring us to our other Big Story of the week, which is the unprecedented spate of bills and other measures across the country designed to suppress turnout and make voting harder. According to the Brennan Center, as of Feb. 19, state lawmakers had introduced 253 bills restricting voting access. Here’s some recent news:

Georgia, as Ari Berman writes in Mother Jones, is “ground zero for the GOP’s escalating war on voting.” On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate introduced a bill repealing no-excuse absentee voting and requiring a copy of an ID and a witness signature for absentee ballots. (On Thursday, its ethics committee held a 7:30 a.m. hearing regarding the bill.) Another bill would allow the state to take over local election offices determined to be “low-performing.” 

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, also wants to make it harder to vote by mail, and late last week proposed a number of new restrictive laws. And in Iowa, the state legislature passed a bill curtailing early voting and the prevalence of ballot drop boxes. The secretary of state of Ohio also seems determined to limit the number of drop boxes, despite multiple judges having ruled that he had the legal authority to order multiple boxes per county.

Of course, these aren’t the only alarming actions taking place at the state level and they won’t be the last — we’ll be keeping our eyes on these threats to democracy.

On the Records

Nielsen’s March 2020 Recommendation to Azar
In a March 2020 email to then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar, former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recommended a company that specialized in rapid DNA testing technology, which DHS had previously used to conduct DNA testing on migrant families at the border. The email is another example of how certain private companies had privileged access to top administration officials working on pandemic response.

CBP Response to 2018 Congressional Request
We continue to receive records related to the deaths of people in immigration custody. New documents from Customs and Border Protection show that some officials in 2018 were hesitant to respond to a related request for information from Congress — according to the records, a CBP official shared a report containing the requested information and asked for “approval to release to [CBP Office of Congressional Affairs] personnel.” In a reply, another individual wrote that CBP was “mandated to release this info, but this request is out of cycle and awfully close to hearings.” The hesitance to comply with this request is concerning.

Louis DeJoy Testifies Before Congress
On Wednesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy appeared before the House Oversight Committee, where according to Politico, he “appeared perturbed by the line of questioning from members of Congress, as well as critical media coverage of him and the USPS during his watch.” The Postal Service has been similarly unenthusiastic about responding to information requests from the public, the heavy-handed redactions on DeJoy’s calendars being one blatant example. Check back on our website this weekend for more about our fight for USPS transparency.

Strategic National Stockpile Spreadsheets
We obtained detailed spreadsheets tracking Strategic National Stockpile shipments of supplies to states during the pandemic. The records offer detailed information on supplies as they were delivered to states in March and April 2020.

The Gettysburg Flag-Burning Hoax
Last summer, as Trump sought to cast himself as a “law and order” president, DHS created the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), meant to protect federal property and statues, including monuments to the Confederacy. At the same time, the White House was frequently using the threat of violent antifa protesters as a pretext for its crackdown on demonstrations, leading right-wing extremists and online trolls to pose as leftists and share bogus intentions to commit violence. One hoax involved an online account that circulated plans for a large flag burning at Gettysburg on July 4, 2020. News of the (what would turn out to be fake) rally brought hundreds of heavily armed far-right groups, bikers, neo-Nazis, and others to Gettysburg that weekend. 

American Oversight requested records related to PACT, and received emails from the DHS Federal Protective Service about the Department of Interior’s request for support at Gettysburg, based on “information on social media blogs indicating the burning of flags and destruction of statues at Gettysburg.” The records also include communications about a National Park Police request for support in Lafayette Park on May 31 (the day before peaceful protesters were charged at and hit with chemical agents) as well as the deployment of federal officers to Portland, Ore., in July. Details here.

Headlines You Might Have Missed

Biden is said to nominate three to USPS board of governors (Washington Post)

Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup (Guardian)

‘His face was in your windshield’: South Dakota AG faces impeachment charges as new details of fatal crash emerge (NBC News)

Dominion Voting Systems files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell (Axios)

New claims surrounding Malcolm X assassination surface in letter written on former NYPD officer’s death bed (ABC News)

Whistleblowers: Software bug keeping hundreds of inmates in Arizona prisons beyond release dates (KJZZ Phoenix)

Erik Prince, Trump ally, violated Libya arms embargo, U.N. report says (New York Times)

The Army doesn’t know how many extremists it has booted (Army Times)

The gig economy is coming for millions of American jobs (Bloomberg News)

Fringe weatherman advised Abbott before deadly Texas storm (E&E News)

Raffensperger, staff feared wrongful prosecution under pressure from Trump to change election results (WSB-TV Atlanta)

State lawmakers defy governors in a Covid-era battle for power (New York Times)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton traveled to Utah during last week’s power outages (Dallas News)

First migrant facility for children opens under Biden (Washington Post)

Coronavirus Pandemic

  • White House planning to forecast vaccine shipments months in advance (Politico)
  • High-end medical provider let ineligible people skip Covid-19 vaccine line (NPR)
  • Vaccine access codes for hard-hit Black, Latino communities improperly used in other L.A. areas (Los Angeles Times)
  • Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March (The Hill)
  • FEMA okayed export of N95 masks as workers cried for more (CNN)
The Pandemic in Florida
  • DeSantis advances questionable link between lockdowns and despair (Kaiser Health News)
  • Florida is better off without a detailed vaccination plan, DeSantis says (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Sarasota County community with million-dollar homes got special vaccine access (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
  • Another upscale Florida community got special vaccine access; this one has a splash park (Sarasota Herald-Tribune) [Editor’s note: This is, in fact, a different community than the one in the story above.]
  • DeSantis calls criticism of pop-up coronavirus vaccination sites in wealthy neighborhoods ‘a joke’ (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Hotel that hosted a mostly maskless rally for Florida’s governor is under investigation (CNN)
  • DeSantis omits data on child Covid rates as he touts decision to open schools (NBC 6 South Florida)

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