Opening hearing into Jan. 6 by joint Senate committee highlights confusion over intelligence

On Tuesday, a joint oversight hearing in the Senate began investigations into the events of Jan. 6. Testifying were a number of officers and leaders in law enforcement including: former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, and acting Chief of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Police Robert Contee. 

The hearing actually opened with moving and disturbing testimony from Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza, who recounted her experiences during the Jan. 6 insurgency. She rushed to the Capitol in response to first signals of the emergency by dealing with a pipe bomb and charging into the fray at the Capitol. She suffered a punishing physical attack that included sustaining lingering chemical burns from armed insurgents.

The opening statements from police leadership showed some significant differences between how these officials viewed their roles on Jan. 6 and the limits of their positions and forces. They were united around the idea that this was “a failure of intelligence,” but not always in the sense that information wasn’t properly relayed. Despite Republican efforts, the outcome of these discussions seems to be focused in a way that can’t be making Republicans happy.

One issue came up as a possible solution to dealing with these events: Washington, D.C. statehood.

Just the opening agreements showed how clumsy the existing structure is when it comes to dealing with … anything, really. Sund indicated that he had to go through the Capitol Police Board—which included Stenger and Irving—to get so much as “a glass of water for his officers on a hot day.” In later testimony, Contee made it clear that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser lacks the authority of a state governor when it comes to calling in the National Guard. 

Under questioning, a picture built of a lack of intelligence—not always in the lack of communication but in the lack of basic information. Specifically, Sund repeatedly pointed out that the FBI and other agencies did not seem to be taking domestic terrorists seriously.

The two biggest issues that came up were intelligence—especially with Sund repeatedly saying that intelligence agencies failed to cast “a wide enough net” when it came to considering the plans of white supremacist domestic terrorist groups—and the clumsiness of getting more forces assigned to the Capitol because of the divided, multilevel control of forces in and around Washington.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar opened by asking all to agree that this was a planned and coordinated attack involving white supremacists and extremist groups that represented a real threat to the Capitol. All the former and current police leadership agreed.  

Klobuchar then questioned Sund about the reaction of the Capitol Police to an intelligence report received from the FBI on Jan. 5 warning of potential violence, and that Trump supporters were coming “prepared for war.” Sund variously claimed that it wasn’t reviewed until the evening of Jan. 5, that he never saw the report, and that it was never sent to either the Metro D.C. Police or the sergeants at arms. This report, and the lack of response to the extremely violent language it showcased, came up in much subsequent questioning.

Sund repeatedly defended the idea that he had conducted an “all hands on deck” approach that was “appropriate” based on all past events. However, he also pointed out that he had to run everything past the Capitol Police board (specifically in this case just Stenger and Irving). Sund claimed that he could not request the National Guard without a declaration of emergency from the Capitol Police board.

Questioned about the delay in National Guard response, Sund admitted to frustration. “I don’t know what issues there were at the Pentagon, but I was certainly surprised at the delay.”

Sund finished by saying: “Jan. 6 was a change in the threat we face.” While Stenger noted that while the United States has  greatly expanded intelligence since 9/11, it doesn’t seem efficient at gathering information on internal threats.

Sen. Gary Peters

Peters noted an FBI report carrying a number of expressly violent threats from the Proud Boys and other groups did reach the Capitol Police on Jan. 5, but it didn’t get to operational command. Sund pushed the report off as “raw data” based on “social media posts” that needed to be investigated, something that could not happen given the few hours between the report and events on Jan. 6. 

Sund insisted that the CP “expanded our perimeter” and “coordinated”  based on a Jan. 3 report. Peters went back to Sund’s claims about “military style coordination” and asked what the leaders saw. Sund noted that insurgents “brought climbing gear, they brought explosives, they brought chemical agents.” Sund also indicated that marching toward the Capitol 20 minutes before Trump’s speech ended appeared to be a coordinated movement.

Contee noted that insurgents used hand signals, radios, coordinated use of chemical munitions, and placement of pipe bombs. Both Irving and Stenger agreed it was a coordinated attack.

Contee also noted he was “stunned” by the “tepid response” from the National Guard when the coordinated nature of the attack was clear. He said that Sund was “begging” for the National Guard on a call to the Pentagon, but there was not an immediate “yes.” Instead there was a concern about “optics” and an “exercise to check the boxes.” 

In closing remarks, Peters noted that intelligence agencies are eight months late on a requested report on the threat from domestic terrorism.

Sen. Roy Blunt:

Blunt asked Sund about attempts to secure the National Guard on Jan. 6. Sund said he made a call asking for this assistance at 1:09 PM, but Irving and Stenger didn’t approve it until 2:10 PM. This timing became the focus of much later questioning. 

Irving said first: “I did not take call from Sund as a request.” Then he clarified that he meant the earlier call on Jan. 4. According to Irving, Sund said he had received an “offer” for National Guard forces and that Irving “talked it through” with Sund and Stenger, who “agreed” the “intelligence did not support” using National Guard. Irving says they all decided to “let it go.”

Stenger was asked about what was meant by the National Guard being “on stand by.” It appears neither he nor Sund did anything to keep the Guard in the loop. 

Sund claimed that he asked Irving for Guard assistance at 1:09 PM. Irving said he was on the floor at the time (which appears to be the case) and didn’t recall getting request until 2:10 PM. “I have no phone record of a call from Chief Sund.” He then says he talked to Sund at 1:28 PM, but Sund did not make a request at that time. 

Sen. Rob Portman

Portman requested that they get Sund and Irving’s phone records to deal with the issue. 

Sund admits that Capitol Police were not prepared for a large insurrection or “infiltration” of the Capitol. Portman got both Stenger and Irving to admit that Secret Service has a plan for a similar attacks on the White House, and he wondered why the Capitol Police did not.

Under questioning, Sund admits that all Capitol Police are not outfitted with “hard gear” (helmet, shields, etc.). “Up until Jan. 6, the [seven platoons of “civil disturbance” officers] had been enough” for every previous event. Only four of those platoons had hard gear. Sund said he had ordered riot gear, but it was delayed “because of COVID.”

Contee indicated that in addition to seven platoons with full riot gear, all Metro D.C. police have helmets, protective gloves, gas masks, batons, etc. and all officers have basic civil disturbance training and almost all get additional training. Sund said that such training was “a process being implemented” by Capitol Police.

Portman underlined that officers had not given proper training and didn’t have the necessary equipment. “I appreciate the sacrifice and the bravery of that day, but we owe it to the officers” to fill those needs.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Leahy acted to cut off claims that the House or Senate were a bottleneck. He asked all of the law enforcement leaders if “the appropriations committee has met your request for salaries and operating expenses in every fiscal year.” Irving: “Yes.” Stenger: “Yes.”

“I happen to think that we have not a failure of inadequate resources,” said Leahy, “but a failure to deploy the resources that we have.”

Leahy points out that when the police were given a warning of armed extremists, they can't then claim that there was no warning of violence. The repeated claims that things were going to be no worse than previous events were not backed up by the intelligence that was received.

Sen. Ron Johnson

Johnson skipped out on asking any questions to instead read a lengthy statement from an anti-Muslim hate group blaming “fake Trump protesters” and “agent provocateurs” for Jan. 6. According to Johnson, all the “real” Trump supporters were “happy” and “in high spirits.” Johnson’s account ended with claims that Capitol Police incited the crowd by firing tear gas after police overreacted to “a tussle.”

So it was all the fault of antifa and the police. Everyone but the Trump supporters, who were all “cheerful” in marching on the Capitol.

Johnson then spent the rest of his time complaining about not getting answers on his conspiracy theories. He made one feint at the end to get Sund to agree that Trump protesters were “pro police,” but Sund noted there were Trump people claiming to be police even as they were pushing through police lines. In terms of wacky highlights, this was it.

Sen. Jacky Rosen

Rosen asked Contee about the report from the FBI on Jan. 5, which also reached the Metro D.C. police late at night by email. Contee’s initial response was much the same as Sund’s: that this was raw data without a suggested response. However, he noted that the Metro police were already prepared for widespread violence in association with Jan. 6. They just weren’t responsible for the Capitol.

Contee also noted that the previous two MAGA rallies in November and December included weapons recovered from several people. “Those were the only rallies were we’ve seen people coming armed,” said Contee. 

Rosen noted that there seemed to be “a breakdown” between the FBI and Capitol Police. But Sund insisted that it wasn’t just the FBI, and it was more than just how the message was delivered. “We need to look at the whole intelligence community and the view that they have on domestic extremists,” said Sund.

Sen. Mark Warner

Warner expressed concern that the “hurdles from the previous administration” slowed and limited to support for Washington and limited its ability to prepare. He brought up Washington, D.C. statehood as a solution for streamlining some of those difficulties.

Warner noted that he talked directly with FBI leadership on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5. “I felt like the FBI felt like they were in better shape in terms of intel,” said Warner. 

Sund said the relationship between Capitol Police and the FBI is “outstanding.” He noted that the FBI was very effective in the aftermath of the events in helping investigate those who invaded the Capitol. And Sund again indicated that the failure was more about the intelligence being gathered rather than what was passed on.

Contee said he wanted more a “whole intelligence approach,” noted that the FBI was a “great partner” for the Metro police.

Warner agreed, noting that Jan. 6 drew the same kind of antigovernment extremists who were on the streets of Charlottesville, but that these groups aren’t “getting the level of serious review” that other threats were. He also noted that these groups have ties to extremist groups overseas, specifically in Europe.

Sen. James Lankford

Lankford was the first to seem more interested in how to twist the information to support some Fox News-worthy narrative. He started by asking Sund to talk at length about a letter from Sund to Nancy Pelosi. Sund said that Pelosi called for his resignation “without a full understanding of what we had gone through and prepared for.”

Lankford then asked about how the pipe bomb was found at the Republican National Committee (RNC). When he was told that an employee at the RNC located the pipe bomb and called it in, Lankford then seemed to take this as proof that the pipe bombs weren’t really “coordinated” with the rest of the attack because the discovery of those bombs at that time was coincidental. (But was it? This certainly seems like a good thing to investigate.)

Lankford also spent some time trying to dismiss the idea that the National Guard was slow to respond. He insisted that it usually takes “multiple days” to approve the National Guard, and insisted that the delays in their approval on Jan. 6 were “typical,” saying that the National Guard was not “the riot police” or “a SWAT team.” Lankford attempted to get Sund to agree that he knew the National Guard was forced to be unarmed, with no drones and no helicopter. Sund denied knowing these restrictions had been put on. Lankford then claimed these “restrictions were put on them by the city of Washington D.C.” without evidence and without asking Contee about this point.

Finally, Lankford spent some time comparing the attack on the Capitol to the “attack on a federal courthouse in Portland” and insinuating that the same forces were involved in both.

Sen. Tom Carper

Carper started off by pointing out that the National Guard is frequently called in to respond quickly to emergencies, and does so. But “the D.C. National Guard operates differently.” Carper also noted that this is one of the reasons he’s worked for years in favor of Washington, D.C. statehood.

Carper gave Contee another opportunity to make it clear that Bowser has no authority to authorize National Guard deployment—that she has to go through an entire chain of requests and approvals. This includes both the Capitol Police board and Pentagon officials.

Carper then asked Contee if having an easier means of calling the National Guard—similar to that given every state—would help to protect the city and federal installations. Contee’s response was an enthusiastic “yes,” and an agreement that this needs to be investigated as part of the response to Jan. 6.

Carper asked Sund why the threat of a “truly devastating attack” was so badly underestimated. Sund pointed back at the FBI and other intelligence agencies for not warning that a coordinated attack across many states was being prepared. Sund indicated that it was not so much “a failure to communicate” but a failure to investigate and focus on domestic extremists.

Sen. Jeff Merkley

Merkley pointed out the level of violence called for in the statement from the FBI, which included white supremacists calling directly to disrupt the certification of the electoral vote “or die.” That report is the same one that was emailed to both Capitol Police and Metro D.C. Police, but not until late in the evening on Jan. 5 and without any warning or flag that would have made its importance obvious.

Merkley spent a good deal of time dealing with specific incidents of Capitol security. That included how the police dealt with what Sund kept describing as “an expanded perimeter” without additional forces to secure that perimeter.  

Stenger noted that there is a drill “once a year” in which there is a test of locking and protecting Congressional chambers, which is something that failed on Jan. 6. He could not say when the last such drill took place.

Sen. Rick Scott

Scott focused on an extremely odd point for his entire time at bat: Why was the National Guard still in Washington? No matter what he was told, or how futile his questions became, Scott wouldn’t move from this issue.

"No one has any reason why we have the National Guard here," said Scott. (Ignoring that little insurgency thing.) Scott kept hammering this point, even when each of those testifying made it clear they had no involvement in maintaining the Guard or information on why they were there.

When told that he should ask the current Capitol Police and sergeant at arms, he seemed genuinely confused. However, he still could not leave this pointless question alone. "I'm flabbergasted that there's no public information why we have all this National Guard here," said Scott. Sund and others tried to point out there had been an insurrection. Scott never seemed to get it. 

Sen. Maggie Hassen

Hassen asked Contee to describe the coordination between Metro police and the National Park Service when it comes to approving permits. Contee agreed that this system needed to be reviewed, especially when it comes to evaluating risks. While the Parks department was still giving out permits, even with the evidence of violence by the same groups in previous appearances, the Washington government had actually suspended mass gathering since March to respect the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hassen expanded the discussion of intelligence beyond the FBI and asked about any communication from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Sund and Contee agreed that no one from DHS attempted to issue a national security event or reach out to Capitol Police with any concerns around Jan. 6.

Sen. Josh Hawley

The idea that Hawley would be questioning law enforcement officials is itself an indictment of the government. However, Hawley made an elaborate point of thanking Capt. Mendoza and other police for their work in "repelling these violent criminal rioters."

For most of his questioning, Hawley remained reasonable. He asked Sund about National Guard activation. Back on the 1:09 PM phone call question, Sund said Irving told him he needed to run a Guard request "up the chain of command." Hawley pondered who this "chain of command" might be. 

Irving again said he didn't recall the phone call, and his phone records do not show a call at that time. Irving claimed that had he gotten such a request, he "would have approved it immediately." Instead, Irving says Sund called him a half hour later and didn't actually make a request until 2:10 PM.

Sund insisted he made request at 1:09 PM. And that his call at 1:22 PM was to "follow up on the status of that request."

Irving said he never consulted "congressional leadership" or waited for their approval. Irving denies seeking approval from Pelosi or McConnell, which likely deflates some theory by Hawley that Pelosi nixed Guard approval.

Sund repeated that Irving was concerned about the "optics" of bringing in National Guard on Jan. 4.  Irving denied this, saying his "issue was with whether the intelligence warranted" calling in Guard. He said again that his understanding was that Sund had "an offer" of troops, but that he, Stenger, and Sund talked about it and agreed to turn it down. Hawley asked what the concern over deploying guard was. Irving says he wasn't concerned about anything but intelligence.

Finally, Hawley asked Klobuchar for an extra minute. When this was granted, Hawley used the time to attack Pelosi for appointing retired Gen. Russel Honoré to conduct an investigation into events on Jan. 6.

Sen. Alex Padilla

Padilla began by asking all the witnesses if the video of events shown during Trump's impeachment was accurate. All agreed that it was.

Sund again said they had no information on the scope of what was coming. No idea that "we would be facing an armed insurrection involving thousands of people."

Padilla asked if the previous MAGA incidents in November and December might have been "trial runs" during which the same groups involved on Jan. 6 could gather intelligence on the limits of police response. Sund agreed this was possible. Padilla made it clear that Donald Trump had had control of those intelligence agencies that were failing to focus on domestic terrorism by white supremacist extremist groups.

Padilla asked about the difference in preparations on Jan. 6 versus protests over the summer, noting hundreds of arrests. However, Sund claimed there were just six arrests during the BLM protests and said preparation on Jan. 6 was far greater. Of course, Sund is limited to the Capitol, not other sites around the city. But clearly preparations on Jan. 6 were nothing like the masses of troops that met some peaceful protests.

Sen. Bill Hagerty

Hagerty wasn’t much interested in anything the witnesses had to say, but, like Johnson, had plenty to say on his own. He started by claiming the Guard presence in summer of 2020 was "necessary following some of the worst rioting in decades."

Hagerty then tried blaming the failure of Guard to appear on Jan. 6 on "backlash" against the use of the Guard to "restore order" in the summer. So … the insurgency was BLM’s fault.

Sund refused to agree, insisting again that he was surprised by how reluctant the Pentagon was to cooperate. Thwarted, Hagerty then went straight to attacking Pelosi and Honoré. And ... that was it. Hagerty couldn't even think of how to fill his time because he had no actual questions.

Sen. Angus King

King refocused on the intelligence failure, but—in contradiction to Sund's statements—kept returning to "a failure of communication." King then turned to asking Sund about how to secure Capitol without "turning it into a fortress."

Sund insisted there was a process to get credible intelligence where it needs to be and again said the failure was in intelligence gathering. He said the Capitol Police well prepared for issues like lone gunmen, etc., but insisted that much of this should be discussed in a closed, classified session.

King asked Sund to expand on the intelligence shortfalls. Sund said even the director of the field office for the FBI gave no hint that there was a coordinated attack planned despite a direct call on Jan 5. The email late on Jan. 5 might have had some alarming language, but there was no hint it was part of a large, multistate plan.

King asked about the process for making assistance requests, calling in the Guard, etc. Sund agreed that the process needs to be streamlined.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

Sinema asked about the meetings leading up to Jan. 6 and which agencies were involved. Contee detailed a number of meetings that included both Metro D.C. police and Capitol Police.

Contee discussed what he saw as the major mistakes. He said the issue on sharing information, and how it was shared, is a concern. The FBI sent the most frightening information to email boxes at 7 PM on the night before the event. It didn’t raise concerns in earlier calls and did not contact Contee or Sund to bring any concerns to their attention.

Sund emphasized again that the report—which he didn’t even learn about until after he had resigned—was seen as raw data that wasn’t moved forward. He recounted the process for moving information from the FBI, but again emphasized that the letter was sent as raw data without analysis or recommendations on the evening of Jan 5. There wasn’t a high level of attention assigned to it.

Contee confirms that the Metro D.C. Police were aware of the significance of Jan. 6 and that Bowser called up additional units, pulled in forces from the outlying districts, and requested Guard officers to free up additional police forces.

Sen. Ted Cruz

Irony, part two.

Cruz described Jan. 6. as "a terrorist attack" on the Capitol. He then went back to requests from Sund, and Sund's statement that Irving was "concerned about the optics." Sund was asked to describe the conversations at length. Sund said he met with Irving in his office and again said that Irving told him "I didn't like the optics" and told Sund to talk to Stenger. Stenger asked Sund to call National Guard Commander Gen. William J. Walker to prepare. Walker told Sund that the 125 troops being deployed to Washington could be armed and sent to the Capitol quickly. That response seemed to satisfy Irving and Stenger.

Irving said the meeting on Jan. 4 was a phone call. (Sund said it was an in-person meeting.) Irving said it was an "offer" to send in Guard. (Sund said it was a request.) Irving said he can't recall using term "optics." Irving and Stenger said they did contact Pelosi and McConnell on Jan. 6, but only to inform them that there "might" be a request for National Guard assistance.

Cruz joined others in asking for phone records. Cruz was surprisingly subdued and didn't ask any “gotchas.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff

Again, Ossoff and Sund discussed the training and preparation of the Capitol Police. Sund returned to saying that there was no training on how to deal with a mass insurrection. Sund did say that Capitol Police called out “tabletop exercises” in advance of national security events such as the inauguration, but this was not done on Jan. 6.

Sund also said that communication and chain of command “broke down” during Jan. 6 as communications with those on the scene at the Capitol became difficult.

Ossoff asked if procedures exist for dealing with an emergency like an attack on the Capitol without the approval of the Capitol Police board. Short answer: No.

Sund emphasized that Capitol Police are a “consumer” of intelligence and the organization is not configured to collect or analyze intelligence.