Since January 6, I’ve been following the investigation of what went wrong at the Capitol (see earlier posts here, here and here). How could a group of insurrectionists, supporters of Donald Trump, succeed in delaying the counting of electoral votes and almost succeed in thwarting the election of a new President? We still don’t know answers to the most important questions, but some clarity has emerged. This is simply an update. We will learn more, I hope and expect.
As Rohini Kurup and Benjamin Wittes make clear in a post on Lawfare, there are two important wings to the investigation: Was January 6 an Intelligence Failure, a Police Failure or Both? They argue that it was primarily an intelligence failure:
In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, [top Capitol security] officials argued that police were well prepared for the events the intelligence assessment led them to expect. They were not prepared, by contrast, for the events that took place, which the intelligence agencies did not anticipate.
They wrote this before FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tia Sewell and Benjamin Wittes provide a useful summary, also on Lawfare, of what we heard from Wray. He defended the work of the FBI and other intelligence agencies by pointing to raw intelligence that was provided to Capitol security officials in a variety of forms before the event. Sewell and Wittes are especially disappointed in the quality of the questioning by Senators from both parties: The Questions That FBI Director Christopher Wray Wasn’t Asked.
Wray stressed the number of open investigations the FBI has regarding white extremist groups, but was not pressed by any Senator about “the FBI’s almost total lack of visibility into the planning for Jan. 6.” I can certainly agree with that. I’m no FBI agent, but I knew that the event was worth watching live as it occurred. I knew something was going to happen. Why didn’t the FBI know what and by whom?
Sewell and Wittes also point to a second question Wray was never asked: whether there is ‘implicit bias’ in how the FBI assesses possible security threats. “[T]here is a question about whether the FBI’s culture is as sensitive to the dangers that can flow from the of violent fulminations of conservative white men as it to the dangers of similar fulminations from Islamist extremists.”
Clearly there is more to be learned about the intelligence failure, because there certainly was a failure of intelligence. We don’t know why, especially whether there was any intentionality to that failure. If the FBI had raw intelligence on the coming event and the target was the Congress and the Vice President, why wasn’t this lifted up in a more dramatic and pointed fashion to the security forces. Wray and his deputy both acknowledged that they hadn’t read the summaries that were passed along to Capitol security forces until after the event. No one was providing focus or emphasis. Why?
All this does not mean there was not also a police failure. While Capitol police and Metro DC police acted admirably for the most part, they were overwhelmed. And reinforcements were not provided. Testimony from the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard to the Senate committees was especially shocking. Here’s a summary from the Washington Post:
Maj. Gen. William J. Walker didn’t pull any punches in detailing what he called “unusual” Pentagon restrictions that hamstrung his ability to provide emergency assistance. He laid out a timeline that began at 1:49 p.m. with a frantic phone call from the then-head of the Capitol Police reporting a “dire emergency” with the breach of the security perimeter by hostile rioters and requesting immediate assistance. Maj. Gen. Walker promptly alerted Army leadership, but said he encountered resistance from officials worried about the “optics” of sending in troops. He said he didn’t receive authorization to send forces to the Capitol until 5:08 p.m.
That is, a delay of three hours and 19 minutes while the nation’s citizens watched the siege on live television. We need to know who made what decisions and when that day (and before that day). Does the responsibility lie with Pentagon officials appointed by Donald Trump? Does it lie with Donald Trump himself. Donald Trump had taken a solemn oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” On that day, he failed to fulfill his oath of office. (Marcy Wheeler on Empty Wheel raises some good questions.)
We need sworn testimony. Then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller was not the person who testified. We need to hear directly from him. Instead, he sent Robert Salesses, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities.
Miller had been named Acting Secretary of Defense by President Donald Trump on November 9, 2020, following Trump’s firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Why was Esper fired so late in the Trump presidency? What direction or expectation was Miller operating under as Acting Secretary of Defense on January 6?
This event was both an intelligence failure and a police failure. That we know. What we don’t know is the degree to which government officials provided support and assistance to the insurrection by doing less than they should have — by looking away or by delaying.
Update, March 11, 2021: ProPublica asks good questions.
Update, March 16, 2021: Army initially pushed to deny District’s request for National Guard before Jan. 6 in the Washington Post. On Empty Wheel, Marcy Wheeler continues to read legal filings in the case with care (for instance), and to report other important bits of information (for example).
Update, March 18, 2021: 86 Minutes: Two Arrests Thwarted and Three Cops Disabled by “Bear Shit” posted by Marcy Wheeler on Empty Wheel.
Update, April 15, 2021: D.C. Police requested backup at least 17 times in 78 minutes during Capitol riot | Visual Forensics, Washington Post.