Law Enforcement at Odds in Senate Testimony on Capitol Attack

Much is still unclear about the security breaches that led up to violent bloodshed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but senators are finally getting oversight efforts started this week.

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, right, and Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza, left, greet each other Tuesday before they testify at a joint Senate hearing to examine the January 6 attack on the Capitol. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Law enforcement and security officials who survived the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol gave their first public accounts Tuesday of the traumatic details of a day they said unfolded in chaos because of bad intelligence sharing and poor preparation.

The testimony came during an ongoing hearing of two Senate committees. “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. We want to ensure nothing like this happens again,” Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said this morning.

As the witnesses who spoke today all found different places to lay blame for what happened, however, the hearing did not quite achieve its objective.

Steven Sund, who resigned as U.S. Capitol Police chief on Jan. 7, testified, for example, that the Pentagon had been slow respond to a frantic request by Capitol Police for support during the riot.

Sund said law enforcement were scrambling to defend the Capitol building from rioters armed with weapons and even bear mace. Despite what he said were visibly deteriorating conditions in Washington, however, the witness said Lieutenant General Walter Piatt at the Department of the Army recommended via conference call that the National Guard stand by and stand down.

“The Army staff responded 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,” Contee testified Tuesday. “In the meantime, by 2:30 p.m. the district had requested additional officers from as far away as New Jersey and issued notice of an emergency citywide curfew beginning at 6 p.m.” 

Sund also said Piatt told him he would run the request for National Guard troops up the chain of command.

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

It would take over two hours for the National Guard to appear.

Sund’s account largely echoed that of Robert Contee, acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, who also came before lawmakers.

There were some discrepancies, however, in accounts from Sund and Paul Irving, the former House sergeant at arms who retired 24 hours after the siege. 

Sund told lawmakers he called Irving just after 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 to request more backup as a bloom of violent rioters swept over barricades.

Irving said, on the other hand, that he had no recollection of the call from Sund. Irving said his phone records also showed no call from Sund, or anyone else, at that time. Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri asked Irving and Sund to provide copies of their phone records to the committee.

Along with Irving, lawmakers heard Tuesday from Michael Stenger, former sergeant at arms for Senate who also retired in the wake of the siege amid mounting reports saying they had delayed calling the National Guard for backup against the mob.

Irving disputed media reports suggesting he was apprehensive on Jan. 4 about calling up the National Guard.

“We discussed whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol,” Irving said of a phone call before the attack. “Our collective judgment at that time was no — the intelligence did not warrant that.”

Senators also probed officials with more questions around the intelligence sharing between agencies in the runup to the siege on Jan. 6. Questions still swirl around exactly what was known or what was offered as a warning to law enforcement before the attack that left five dead.

“I think the intelligence did not make it where it needed to be,” Contee said Tuesday as he lamented to lawmakers that the Metropolitan Police Department only received a warning about the possible severity of the attach a mere evening before it occurred. 

The FBI on Jan. 5 issued a stark warning from its field office in Norfolk, Virginia, that people were preparing to commit violence and “war” on Jan. 6 and were headed to Washington. The FBI in an assessment report on the threat noted that people were online, actively discussing rallying points and sharing maps of the Capitol, some of which showed where tunnels connected to different parts of the winding complex.

Sund said the intelligence division for Capitol Police received the FBI’s threat assessment but he never actually saw it himself that day. Irving and Stenger also denied seeing the memo. 

Such assertions left Michigan Senator Gary Peters gobsmacked.

“How can you not get that vital intelligence on the eve of what’s going to be a major event?” the Democrat asked.

Sund said what little information he received in advance was “raw data,” and he acknowledged that it spooked him enough that he asked the Metropolitan Police Department to expand its security perimeter for Jan. 6 and coordinate with Capitol Police.

Irving, Stenger, Sund and Contee each agreed that the attack was coordinated in advance. When pressed by Klobuchar, they also agreed to a man that white supremacists or organizations with white supremacist ties facilitated the siege.

Contee also testified that on the day of the siege, he witnessed rioters using hand signals to communicate in the fray and as further indication of their forethought. “There were radio communications that were involved,” he added.

More than 250 people face federal charges in connection to the insurrection, and analysis by NPR published last week shows nearly a quarter of those arrested so far have ties to extremist or fringe groups. By NPR’s count, nearly 35 individuals arrested in connection to the attack have specifically cited former President Donald Trump as the reason they stormed the Capitol. 

Trump’s incitement of the insurrection earned him his second impeachment by the House, but the Senate acquitted him.

Investigations into the insurrection will continue with other congressional committees this week. Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman goes before the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday to field questions about what the Capitol Police force needs to reorganize nearly eight weeks after the attack, and how to strengthen its 2,000-strong police force.

The House Judiciary Committee also meets to discuss the rise of domestic terrorism, and the House Financial Services Committee has a hearing on its docket that will explore how domestic terrorists finance themselves in the aftermath of the insurrection.

Meanwhile, a battle over the creation of a special commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack is brewing in Congress. Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proposed standing up a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission that would be solely dedicated to probing the cause and effect of the insurrection.

Republicans balked at reported suggestions Democrats would dominate the panel, calling for membership to represent both parties equally.

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