Senate set to examine Jan. 6 attack on Capitol, grill former officials on security failures

Senate set to examine Jan. 6 attack on Capitol, grill former officials on security failures

February 23, 2021

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Two Senate committees are set to meet Monday in the first public congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 Capitol security failures that allowed a pro-Trump mob to storm the building as lawmakers were certifying the presidential election results in a joint session. 

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSCAC) and Rules and Administration Committee will convene at 10 a.m. as they seek information about “preparations and response efforts” to the attack. 

Invited to the hearing are Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee and the three former top security officials at the Capitol who have since resigned. Those are former Senate Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and former U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Chief Steven Sund. 

“This was an attack on our democracy and must NEVER happen again,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., tweeted last week when the hearing was announced. “As @HSGAC Chairman, I’m planning to get to the bottom of this.”

Supporters of former President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Also leading the hearing will be HSCAG Ranking Member Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Rules and Administration Committee Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rules and Administration Ranking Member Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

In January, in the immediate wake of the Capitol attack, Peters, Portman, Klobuchar and Blunt announced that they would hold hearings and lead the investigation in the Senate into what happened. 

“Let us be clear: An attack on the Capitol Building is an attack on every American,” they said. “We plan to conduct oversight and hold bipartisan hearings on these horrific events, and work together to make the necessary reforms to ensure this never happens again.”

Those four senators also led a bipartisan push earlier this month to get information from 22 different federal agencies. 

“The January 6, 2021 attack on our Capitol, one of the great symbols of American democracy, will forever be a stain on our Nation’s history. The attackers failed to disrupt the work of Congress, due in large part to the heroic acts of many officers and congressional staff,” they said at the time. “Nevertheless, the security failures that led to the breach endangered not just the Vice President and the Congress, but the peaceful, democratic transfer of power itself. The American people deserve a complete accounting of those failures.”

This file photo from Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021, shows Trump supporters swarming the Capitol, as Congress prepares to affirm then-President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has commissioned retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to lead the investigation into what happened. Honoré is known for the role he played in the response to Hurricane Katrina, but some of his provocative, partisan past comments have come to light in recent weeks. But Pelosi’s office defended Honoré, saying that his “whose name is synonymous with integrity and professionalism.-

Pelosi in a letter to fellow House Democrats last week said that Honoré’s review, which started in mid-January, has so far revealed “that we must put forth a supplemental appropriation to provide for the safety of Members and the security of the Capitol.” Talks are currently underway about a 9/11-style commission to study the attack. 

Likely topics at the Monday Senate hearing include the what kind of warnings of the attack law enforcement had in advance of the attack; why the security at the Capitol was so thin; and whether there were delays in getting reinforcements to help. 

The Washington Post last month reported that the FBI had shared information with D.C. law enforcement agencies that some extremists were getting ready for “war” on Jan. 6 and planning to commit violence. Nevertheless, there were not adequate preparations. 

Sund said the USCP was ready for “First Amendment activities,” rather than a “violent attack.”

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, in Washington. A Massachusetts teenager publicly called out her relatives after recognizing them as possible rioters during last week’s riot in Washington D.C.. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that last month the initial offer from the Department of Justice for FBI assistance was initially rejected even as the attack was going on. 

What kind of security the Capitol needs going forward could be a topic as well. Currently, there are still National Guard troops on the Capitol grounds and fencing surrounding the campus. 

It’s also possible Trump’s actions leading up to the attack, which many allege caused the attack, are discussed. But it’s likely that with the panel of witnesses being the local officials most directly responsible for the security of the Capitol grounds, there will be more of a focus on what warnings there were, why they were not heeded and how the building can be hardened in the future. 

The attack followed a rally held the same day by former President Donald Trump in which he encouraged his supporters to protest Biden’s electoral college certification. The former president and his allies at the rally used pitched rhetoric — including Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani calling for “trial by combat” — riling up the large crowd.

Trump told his followers during that speech to protest “peacefully and patriotically,” but critics have said that one off-hand comment does not outweigh the balance of his rhetoric in the lengthy Jan. 6 speech or in the preceding weeks, in which he said the rally would be “wild.”

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Thousands of Trump supporters, fueled by his spurious claims of voter fraud, are flooded the nation’s capital protesting the certification of Joe Biden’s White House victory by the US Congress. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
((Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images))

Rioters had been around the Capitol for most of the day on Jan. 6, but they finally breached the building as their numbers grew about an hour after Trump’s speech concluded. 

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for allegedly inciting an insurrection by the Senate later failed to convict him. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his vote to acquit Trump was not because the former president wasn’t responsible, but because the Senate didn’t have jurisdiction over the former president. 

“January 6th was a disgrace,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President.”

He added: “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election… And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”

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