Questions About Jan. 6 Capitol Attack Remain as Senate Investigates

Less than two months ago, an armed mob spurred on by then-President Donald Trump and his false claims about election fraud stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly attack aimed at thwarting the certification of the 2020 election results. Rioters broke through the vastly outnumbered ranks of Capitol Police and wreaked destruction while lawmakers and staff sheltered in secure locations or barricaded themselves in offices.

Now the Senate is beginning a series of hearings investigating the Jan. 6 attack that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. A joint hearing held Tuesday by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Committee on Rules and Administration was the first public opportunity for lawmakers to question key figures who were involved with security of the Capitol when it fell, including former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, and former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund — all of whom resigned after the attack — as well as Robert Contee III, chief of Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). 

Numerous questions remain about why Capitol security was seemingly so unprepared and about the level of coordination behind the riot. The federal government’s delay in authorizing the deployment of National Guard troops has also been the subject of serious concern.

In the days after the attack, Capitol Police and national security officials did not provide a public briefing on the incident. This lack of transparency is compounded by the fact that the Capitol Police, which has an annual budget of approximately $460 million and employs 2,300 people across officers and civilian roles, is part of the legislative branch and thus exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

American Oversight is seeking information from multiple other agencies to help the public understand the fatal security failures of Jan. 6. We’ve already submitted dozens of record requests to federal, state, and local agencies as part of our investigation. Here are some highlights:

  • We requested the Jan. 6 communications of top military officials with Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. Pence reportedly took the lead on mobilizing the National Guard to respond to the Capitol attack, which Trump resisted doing. 
  • During Tuesday’s hearing, Sund and Contee both discussed a conference call they participated in during the attack, in which a top Defense official said he would recommend against National Guard deployment because he was worried about optics. According to Sund, authorization didn’t come for nearly two more hours. We’ve asked both the Army and the National Guard for the memo from this call.
  • We filed requests with the Metropolitan Police Department and the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for assessments and communications about threats posed by militia or extremist groups in advance of the election certification.
  • We filed a records request with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s office for email communications with Pentagon officials about National Guard deployment on Jan. 6. After the attack, Hogan said he had immediately mobilized Maryland State Police and National Guard members, but was repeatedly denied permission from the Defense Department until hours into the attack. 
  • We’ve requested records about state and local government officials across the country who reportedly promoted or participated in the “Stop the Steal”rally centered on Trump’s false election-rigging claims or in the subsequent attack on the Capitol — including lawmakers in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and elsewhere. 

Officials testifying during Tuesday’s hearing described a breakdown of intelligence and communications during the assault, despite much of the attack having been essentially planned in plain sight. 

Irving and Stenger, for example, said they did not see a report from the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., field office, issued the day before the riot, regarding anonymous online posts that warned of a “war” on the Capitol. Sund testified that the Capitol Police had received the report the day before the attack, but he had not personally reviewed it. 

Witnesses also testified about the attackers’ high level of organization, including the placement of explosive devices nearby, possibly to divert law enforcement from the Capitol. 

It was “the worst attack on law enforcement and our democracy that I have seen,” Sund said

American Oversight is also looking into other attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election, including Trump’s Twitter firing of a top cybersecurity official, state officials’ mimicry of Trump’s election fraud lies, and the failed Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn election results in key states.

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