WASHINGTON – Senators are questioning the current and former leaders of four law enforcement agencies about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The hearing before two Senate committees is the officials’ first public testimony about the deadly riots.
Meanwhile, senators are also holding confirmation hearings for several of President Joe Biden’s nominees: attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland and Health and Human Services secretary nominee Xavier Becerra. The Senate is also slated to vote on the confirmation of Linda Thomas Greenfield for United Nations ambassador.
Please refresh for the latest updates on the Capitol riots hearings and the confirmation hearings.
Top officials say they did not see FBI intelligence warning of calls for violence online
Top Capitol law enforcement officials said they did not see intelligence from the FBI the night before the riot warning of calls for violence online and saying groups were “preparing for war.”
Under questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chair of one of the panels leading the hearing, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said the report was received at Capitol Police headquarters the night before the riot, but leadership did not see it.
The officials previously faulted intelligence failures at the federal level for failing to forecast the escalation of violence at the riot. Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, the House’s top law enforcement officer said the United States Capitol Police’s intelligence compiled from federal reports did not “forecast a coordinated assault” on the Capitol as had happened during the riot.
Both Irving and Michael Stenger, the Senate’s top law enforcement official, told Klobuchar they had not seen the FBI intelligence report.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said the intelligence failure with the FBI report “raised some really big questions.”
Sund said the question “would be looked at.”
“Lots of people post things on social media” that would need to be confirmed, he said.
— Nicholas Wu
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund: ‘These criminals came prepared for war’
Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund defended the conduct of the USCP in his opening remarks during the Senate’s first hearing investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
“We properly planned for a mass protest and civil unrest,” Sund said during his testimony. “But what we got was a military-style assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol building.”
The former police chief resigned from his post in the aftermath of the deadly riots, which saw the U.S. Capitol ransacked and a police officer killed. Sund contended that Capitol Police had not been adequately warned or prepared for the gravity of the threat posed by rioters, and that calls for National Guard reinforcements had been delayed.
“Casting blame solely on the United States Capitol Police leadership is not only misplaced, but it also minimizes what truly occurred,” Sund said in his opening remarks, repeatedly saying their best efforts weren’t enough.
“No entity, including the FBI, provided any new intelligence on Jan. 6,” Sund also argued, contradicting reports that federal agents had provided warnings about the severity of the threat from protesters ahead of the attack.
“These criminals came prepared for war,” Sund emphasized. “They came with weapons, chemical munitions and explosives. They came with shields, ballistic protection and tactical gear. They came with their own radio system to coordinate the attack, as well as climbing gear and other equipment to defeat the Capitol’s security features,” he said.
Sund acknowledged that the images at the Capitol were “upsetting” to many in the country and that USCP was unprepared but pushed back on characterizations that the department was solely responsible for the Capitol’s ransacking.
— Matthew Brown
5 expert witnesses all support Garland for attorney general
All five witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland to become attorney general supported his nomination, leaving any controversy to concerns about Justice Department policy.
Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said he would bring robust enforcement of civil rights laws.
Andrea Tucker, a parent whose children Garland tutors at a D.C. elementary and middle school, said he brings character, commitment and dedication.
“He is a man who actually does what he says he will,” Tucker said.
Donna Bucella, former director of the executive officer for U.S. attorneys, worked with Garland as he led the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. She said they as they toured the carnage with 168 dead, they paused at the former day care center. “An empty silence overcame us,” she said.
Bucella said Garland made sure no corners were cut during the investigation and made sure all voices were heard.
“He is a serious person and doesn’t shy away from making the hard decisions,” Bucella said.
Two experts invited by Republicans also supported Garland, but urged him to maintain policies from the Trump administration.
Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law, said Garland should continue a policy that avoided treating executive “guidance” statements as having the force of law. Former President Trump signed executive orders to prevent what Blackman called “government by blog post.” But President Joe Biden rescinded the executive orders on his first day in office.
Blackman also said Garland should scrutinize consent decrees and avoid paying settlements in cases to third-party groups, a process he called “settlement slush funds.”
Ken Starr, a retired judge and former independent counsel, called the attorney general job difficult, but said Garland must make tough decisions.
“It’s a hard job,” Starr said. “Controversy – at times quite bitter – goes with the territory.”
— Bart Jansen
HHS nominee Xavier Becerra’s confirmation hearing begins
The Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions began its hearing for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.
As HHS secretary, Becerra would play a crucial role in combating the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday.
Republican lawmakers are expected to press Becerra for his role in enforcing California’s lockdown in response to COVID-19, as well as supporting some liberal policies, such as abortion. Several have expressed they believe Becerra is unqualified for the role.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican on the committee, said the “level of expertise that the American people deserve” may be more than Becerra’s experience, which also includes serving as a congressman representing California.
“Members of Congress do not become subject matter experts just because they are members of Congress, just because they sit on a committee that has health responsibilities,” Burr said of Becerra’s previous assignment on the Subcommittee on Health.
Becerra stated that HHS has a “central role” in meeting the ambitious goals President Joe Biden has set to battle COVID-19, including 100 million vaccinations in the Biden administration’s first 100 days, “safely and equitably.” Becerra stressed he plans to achieve these goals in a bipartisan fashion.
If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino appointed to the role.
— Savannah Behrmann
Capitol Police official describes siege as ‘worst of the worst’
A senior Capitol Police official offered a moving recounting of the multiple, urgent calls for help to contain a riotous mob that had breached the Capitol last month.
Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, appearing before a joint Senate panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, described a cloud of “military-grade gas” that hung in the hallways, saying that she still suffers from burns from the chemicals’ disbursement.
During more than four hours of fighting, Mendoza said, she witnessed colleagues falling around her while others pleaded for help to keep the crowd at bay.
“This was by far the worst of the worst,” Mendoza said of the siege, suggesting that no amount of additional personnel might have repelled the mob.
“It was sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens,” the Army veteran said.
— Kevin Johnson
Senate to hear from FBI, DHS and DOD on Capitol attack
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said the Senate would hear from leaders at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense on their role in the response to the attack at the U.S. Capitol.
Klobuchar announced a hearing next week with officials from the agencies as she opened up Tuesday’s hearing with law enforcement leaders on examining the Jan. 6 attack.
No date was announced, nor were the witnesses from these federal agencies.
Klobuchar noted the heroism seen during the attack by police but said this oversight is needed to get to the bottom of how this riot happened.
“We want this to be as constructive as possible because in order to figure out the solutions, we must have the facts,” she said. “We are here today to better understand what was known in advance, what steps were taken to secure the Capitol, and what occurred that day because we want to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”
— Christal Hayes
Top Republican senator says he wants to hear about ‘failure of imagination’ and preparation
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the top Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said Tuesday he looked forward to hearing from Capitol law enforcement officials on any potential “failure of imagination,” preparation and intelligence gathering.
He also offered condolences for the officers who had died in the aftermath of the riot and noted the trauma “untold numbers of people experienced” after the riot.
“The subsequent suicides of USCP Officer Howard Liebengood and MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith were just the first and most tragic results from the psychological trauma that untold numbers of people experienced,” Blunt said.
One officer, Brian Sicknick, died during the riot.
— Nicholas Wu
Chairman vows investigation into ‘colossal breakdown’
The chairman of Senate Homeland Security Committee Tuesday vowed a far-reaching inquiry into the “colossal breakdown” in security that preceded the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol assault.
“The warning signs were there,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said, adding that the lack of coordination suggested a “systemic” security failure.
“Our goal today is to begin to understand where those breakdowns occurred,” Peters said.
The chairman said the attack revealed an “urgent” domestic threat.
“While today’s hearing is first it will not be our last,” Peters said. “The attack on Jan. 6 was extraordinary event that requires exhaustive consideration.”
— Kevin Johnson
Top House law enforcement official says intelligence did not ‘forecast a coordinated assault’
Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, the House’s top law enforcement officer, detailed the intelligence available about the Jan. 6 riot, telling lawmakers in prepared remarks the United States Capitol Police’s intelligence compiled from federal reports did not “forecast a coordinated assault” on the Capitol as had happened during the riot.
On Jan. 6, he said their daily intelligence bulletin suggested the potential for civil disobedience or arrests was ““remote” to “improbable.”
Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee is set to tell lawmakers the District’s intelligence did not suggest a “coordinated assault” either.
“To be clear, available intelligence pointed to a large presence of some of the same groups that had contributed to violence in the city after demonstrations in November and December. The District did not have intelligence pointing to a coordinated assault on the Capitol,” he will say.
The Capitol Police Union has slammed their leadership for their lack of preparation despite intelligence suggesting potentially violent groups would attend the rally on Jan. 6.
— Nicholas Wu
Interior nominee Debra Haaland begins confirmation hearing
The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee has kicked off its confirmation hearing for Debra Haaland to be President Joe Biden’s Interior secretary, a controversial nominee who would be the first Native American Cabinet member.
An enrolled citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna Native American tribe, Haaland also serves as a congresswoman from New Mexico. She serves on the House Natural Resources Committee.
But her historic nomination is already under fire from senators representing oil, gas and coal states who are troubled not only by Biden’s executive order pausing drilling on public lands but also by her previous statements opposing fossil fuel extraction on the 480 million of federal acres she’ll be overseeing.
“Rep. Haaland’s positions are squarely at odds with the mission of the Department of Interior,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the panel’s top Republican as the hearing opened. “That mission includes managing our nation’s oil, gas, and coal resources in a responsible manner. Not eliminating access to them.”
Haaland countered that the public lands could be used more for clean energy, such as wind and solar. And she promised to help fossil fuel workers find new opportunities in a future without carbon-emitting sources of energy.
“The President’s agenda demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production,” she told the committee.
The Interior Department has more than 70,000 employees and is responsible for managing nearly one fifth the land area of the United States as well as 2.5. billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf. The department’s portfolio includes more than 400 national parks, 100 national monuments and 500 national wildlife refuges.
Despite the opposition from several Republicans, Haaland is expected to win confirmation.
— Ledyard King
DC police chief says National Guard didn’t like ‘optics’ of sending troops
D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Acting Chief Robert Contee plans to testify that the National Guard did not want to send troops to the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 because they “did not like the optics of boots on the ground at the Capitol,” according to his prepared remarks.
Contee said at 2:22 p.m., after rioters had already started storming the building and two pipe bombs were found, he had a call with leadership of the Capitol Police, the D.C. National Guard and the Department of the Army.
“I was stunned at the response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol,” Contee says in his prepared remarks.
Contee said he asked whether they were refusing to deploy guardsmen and said he was told by Army staff that “they were not refusing to send them, but wanted to know the plan and did not like the optics of boots on the ground at the Capitol.”
— Christal Hayes
Top law enforcement officials dispute details of National Guard deployment to the Capitol during riot
Top law enforcement officials disputed details about the delay in the National Guard’s deployment to the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot in their prepared remarks, creating inconsistencies in their accounts.
Former Capitol Police Chief Stephen Sund has previously said his requests for the National Guard to be placed on standby in the days before the riot were denied by the House and Senate sergeants at arms, the top law enforcement officers for the House and Senate.
According to Sund, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, the House’s top law enforcement officer, had been concerned about the “optics” of having uniformed troops at the Capitol. Irving disputed Sund’s account, saying in his prepared remarks Sund’s allegation was “categorically false” and that safety was his chief concern.
Sund also plans to say in his opening remarks that as the riot escalated and grew violent on Jan. 6, he asked for the sergeants at arms to declare a state of emergency and call in the National Guard, but was advised by Irving that the request needed to be relayed up the chain of command. Irving counters that he has “no memory” of a call from Sund at that time, nor did he receive any text messages.
The timing of the National Guard deployment to the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot and the communications failures among top Capitol law enforcement officials is likely to be a focus of today’s hearing. Officials have disagreed on this previously but the hearing is the first time the officials will be questioned in public.
— Nicholas Wu
5 experts to testify at Garland confirmation hearing
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Tuesday from a panel of five experts as the confirmation hearing continued Tuesday for Merrick Garland’s nomination to become attorney general.
Garland, a longtime federal judge and former federal prosecutor, testified Monday that his top priorities are investigating domestic terrorism such as the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and combatting foreign terrorism in the 20th anniversary year of the attacks Sept. 11, 2001. He discussed the need for racial equity in law enforcement. And he expects a moratorium would be declared on the federal executions.
More:Merrick Garland says he has ‘great’ concern about federal use of the death penalty, which surged under Trump
Democratic witnesses Tuesday are: Wade Henderson, interim CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Andrea Tucker, a parent of students at J.O. Wilson Elementary School; and Donna Bucella, former director of the executive officer for U.S. attorneys and a former U.S. attorney in Florida.
Henderson submitted testimony calling for a change in course for the Justice Department, which he said was “deeply tarnished” during the Trump administration. Henderson criticized the department for supporting discriminatory voting laws and defending the spread of misinformation.
Henderson called on Garland, who noted the department was created to fight the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War, to vigorously enforce civil rights laws. Henderson said Garland should enforce laws for voting access, deal with the COVID-19 crisis in prisons and suspend the use of the death penalty.
“The need for robust federal civil rights enforcement has never been more important for the country,” Henderson said. “We need an attorney general who will reinstate DOJ’s historic commitment to integrity, independence and vigorous civil rights enforcement.”
Tucker will talk about how Garland has tutored students at a D.C. elementary school for decades.
Bucella worked with Garland after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, an investigation he headed.
Two Republican witnesses are: Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law, and Ken Starr, a retired judge and former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
Blackman has blogged about the lack of significant opinions among Garland’s decades on the bench.
Starr was among prominent former Justice Department officials who signed letters encouraging the Senate to quickly confirm Garland.
Several conservative Republicans on the panel supported his nomination Monday, so his confirmation is expected. The panel will vote March 1 and the full Senate is expected to vote next week, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the panel’s chairman.
— Bart Jansen
At Capitol riot hearing, ex-Senate security official calls for Intelligence review
The Senate’s former chief law enforcement officer Tuesday provided little insight into the initial preparations for the Jan. 6 Capitol demonstration, and instead called for a review of how intelligence is analyzed in advance of such events, according to his prepared opening statement.
“We have to be careful of returning to a time when possibility rather than probability drives security planning,” said former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger in remarks prepared for delivery later Tuesday at a Senate hearing. “Though the events of January 6th certainly reveal that a review of intelligence-led policing should be done, returning to the concept of possibility driving security operations may result in the poor use of resources.”
Stenger resigned shortly after the riots that left five dead, including a U.S. Capitol police officer.
“There is an opportunity to learn lessons from the events of January 6th,” he said. “Investigations should be considered as to funding and travel of what appears to be professional agitators.”
— Kevin Johnson
Police officials to testify about Capitol riot at Senate hearing
WASHINGTON – The current and former leaders of four law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting the U.S. Capitol face questioning from senators Tuesday in their first public testimony about the deadly Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
The hearing before two Senate committees comes as lawmakers investigate the buildup to the riots and the subsequent response by law enforcement. Thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump marched to the Capitol Jan. 6, overpowered police officers, broke inside and then ransacked the building in a riot that resulted in five deaths.
The four officials to field questions from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee are acting Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee, former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger and former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving.
More:Capitol Police investigating 35 officers for Jan. 6 riot as union denounces ‘witch hunt’
Lawmakers are expected to ask about preparation failures. Officers were overwhelmed by rioters despite intelligence suggesting protests could turn violent. The Capitol Police Union has faulted leadership for insufficient preparation and equipment for officers.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters Monday he was hoping to learn more from the officials about intelligence leading up to the attack, why law enforcement was not prepared, and details on the National Guard deployment.
“Why were they not really fully prepared to deal with what was a very large violent attack on the Capitol?” Peters said.
Sund, Stenger, and Irving all resigned in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. The Capitol Police have launched an investigation into their own officers as well, recently saying 35 of their officers were under investigation in relation to the riot, with six suspended without pay, a move their union denounced as a “witch hunt.”
Merrick Garland:Merrick Garland calls Capitol riot probe ‘first priority’ in confirmation hearing; promises no political interference
The group might also seek answers on the delay of the National Guard deployment at the Capitol, which some law enforcement officials have suggested could have helped with their response. Sund has previously said his requests for the National Guard to be placed on standby in the days before the riot were denied. And Contee said in a closed-door briefing with lawmakers Army staff “did not like the optics of boots on the ground at the Capitol.”