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Capitol riot hearing: FBI, National Guard and Homeland Security officials to testify before Senate

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Congress will seek more answers Wednesday about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as national security officials from the FBI, National Guard and Homeland Security are expected to testify before a Senate hearing.

A second joint hearing between the committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules and Administration will convene Wednesday at 10 a.m. to examine the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Those testifying are Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard; Melissa Smislova, senior official performing the duties of the undersecretary in the office of intelligence and analysis for the Department of Homeland Security; Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division; and Robert Salesses, senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense with the Defense Department’s Homeland Defense and Global Security Office.

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So far, lawmakers conducting investigations have focused on failed efforts to gather and share intelligence about the planning before Jan. 6 and on the deliberations among officials about whether to and when to call National Guard troops to protect Congress.

At a previous Senate hearing last week, officials who had been in charge of security at the Capitol — namely former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving — gave conflicting accounts regarding when a request for National Guard support was submitted on Jan. 6.

Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, told senators he was “stunned” over the delayed response and said Sund was pleading with Army officials to deploy National Guard troops as the rioting rapidly escalated.

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, one of two Democratic senators presiding over Wednesday’s hearing, said in an interview Tuesday she believes every moment counted as the National Guard decision was delayed and police officers outside the Capitol were beaten and injured.

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“Any minute that we lost, I need to know why,” Klobuchar said.

The hearing comes as thousands of National Guard troops are still patrolling the fenced-in Capitol building and as multiple committees across Congress are launching investigations into the actions on Jan. 6. The probes are largely focused on security missteps and the origins of the extremism that led hundreds of people to break through the doors and windows of the Capitol, hunt for lawmakers and temporarily stop the counting of electoral votes.

Congress has, for now, abandoned any examination of former President Donald Trump’s role in the attack after the Senate acquitted him last month of inciting the riot by telling the supporters that morning to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.

Klobuchar said there is particular interest Wednesday in hearing from Walker, who was on the phone with Sund and the Department of the Army as the rioters first broke into the building on Jan. 6. Contee was also on the call and told senators that the Army was initially reluctant to send troops.

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Lawmakers have also previously grilled officials on the intelligence available before Jan. 6, including the so-called “Norfolk memo” disseminated by the FBI Norfolk Field Office on the evening of Jan. 5 warning of a potential “war” threatening Washington, D.C. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the report was disseminated in three ways: by email through FBI’s joint terrorism task force, verbally, discussed at a command post; and posted on an internet portal available to other law enforcement agencies. 

Though the information was raw and unverified and appeared aspirational in nature, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.”

“That information was quickly, as in within an hour, disseminated and communicated with our partners including the U.S. Capitol Police,” Wray said, admitting he did not see the memo himself until after Jan. 6.

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Wray also revealed that the FBI has some 2,000 investigations open nationwide in connection to the riot.

So far, he said evidence collected has not indicated Antifa or “fake Trump supporters” were involved in the riot but it did include militia groups and White supremacists, namely Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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