WASHINGTON (CN) — As the clock ticks down to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration amid looming threats of violence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tapped a retired general on Friday to investigate security at the U.S Capitol.
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, a veteran of the first Gulf war who oversaw National Guard deployed to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, will work with members of Congress to examine the state of the Capitol Police in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault. Most officers were undermanned, overwhelmed and outgunned. At least one U.S. Capitol police officer, Brian Sicknick, was killed by a rioter.
“I have asked retired Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré to lead an immediate review of security infrastructure, inter-agency processes and command and control,” Pelosi said during a news conference, two days after her chamber impeached President Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection.
“The general is a respected leader with experience dealing with a crisis,” Pelosi continued.
Honoré will lead the review in the style of the 9/11 Commission, involving bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers — former and current — as well as lawyers and experts from both the legal and national-security fields.
Though the announcement does not specify how after-action review will be organized, it is expected to include lawmakers seated on powerful House committees such as the Oversight Committee, Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Democrat Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing U.S. Capitol Police, is already conducting a probe into law enforcement failures during the Jan. 6 assault. Meanwhile both the Capitol Police chief and the House sergeant at arms have resigned in the fallout, and Ryan has said publicly that he has been in touch with the FBI since Jan. 9 to conduct a review.
Simultaneously Friday, Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the Department of Justice, announced that the department’s Office of the Inspector General would begin assessing the role the justice agency played in anticipating the siege of the Capitol, responding to it, and then managing its bloody aftermath.
That examination, according to a statement from Horowitz, will also involve cooperation from inspectors general from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the Interior Department, among other agencies.
All are seeking cooperation from the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal, state and local agencies. Congressman Ryan, during a Wednesday virtual news conference, said that he has been having a “hell of a time” getting information out of Capitol Police leadership. At least two officers have been suspended so far on allegations that they were complicit in last week’s siege, and at least eight investigations of almost two dozen Capitol police are underway.
Outfits like the Interior Department will be involved because they have jurisdiction to conduct oversight of the National Park Service. The rally held by President Trump in the immediate run-up to the melee was located on the Ellipse near the White House. The Ellipse comes under the purview of the National Park Service, and there were reports of limited involvement by that agency during the response to the attack.
“The DOJ OIG also will assess whether there are any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies or procedures that adversely affected the ability of the DOJ or its components to prepare effectively for and respond to the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,” Horowitz said Friday.
New Jersey Democrat Representative Mikie Sherrill, joined by more than 30 members of the House, has also called for investigations into fellow House lawmakers who arranged for tours of the Capitol just one day before the thousands-strong mob breached its halls toting guns, riot gear, tear gas, drugs and other supplies.
“Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex,” Sherrill wrote to acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett, acting Senate Sergeant at Arms Jennifer Hemmingway and act chief of U.S. Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman.
“The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious. Given the events of January 6, the ties between these groups inside the Capitol Complex and the attacks on the Capitol need to be investigated.”
The inquiring lawmakers seek logbooks, video logs of who was seen coming and going, and other details like whether any of the individuals who were given a tour on Jan. 5 were also at the insurrection on Jan. 6.
“If it is, in fact, found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection, if they aided and abetted the crime, then there have to be actions taken beyond the Congress in terms of prosecution,” Speaker Pelosi weighed in Friday.
The tours permitted on Jan. 5 are curious. Prohibitions on tours of the Capitol building have been in effect since March when the Covid-19 pandemic first slammed shut the doors of everyday activities around the nation’s capital and much of the country.
"The visitors encountered by some of the members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day," Sherrill wrote. "Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex. The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious."
Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, has called the grounds of the Capitol a “crime scene” on a massive scale with potentially thousands of witnesses that could end in the prosecution of hundreds of criminal cases. So far more than 70 people have been charged, and almost 200 have been identified. A search is still underway for an individual who planted pipe bombs near both the National Republican Committee and the Democratic National Committee headquarters mere blocks away.
“We really lost our innocence in this,” Pelosi said Friday. “We took an oath to protect ourselves from foreign enemies and domestic. And now, we have to protect ourselves from domestic. How close within, with the investigation, we will soon know.”
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