WASHINGTON – The F.B.I. may pursue hundreds more suspects in the Capitol riots, the agency’s director told Congress on Tuesday, calling the effort to find those responsible for the deadly attack “one of the most far-reaching and extensive” investigations in the bureau’s history.
“We’ve already arrested nearly 500 and we have hundreds of investigations beyond that 500,” said Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. Director told the House Oversight Committee.
His reassurances of how seriously the agency would take the attack by a pro-Trump mob came when lawmakers urged him and military commanders why, despite threats from extremists with violence, they would stop doing anything to prevent the siege.
“The threats, I would say, were everywhere,” said Carolyn B. Maloney, MP, a New York Democrat and chair of the board of directors. “The system flashed red.”
Ms. Maloney confronted Mr. Wray with messages from the Parler social media site that she said had threatened violence against the F.B.I. more than 50 times before the January 6th attack. A message Ms. Maloney said Parler sent to an FBI. Liaison on Jan. 2, was from a poster warning, “Don’t be surprised if we take the Capitol” and “Trump needs us to wreak havoc in order to pass the insurgency law.”
“I don’t remember hearing about that particular email,” replied Mr. Wray. “I am not aware that Parler has ever attempted to contact my office.”
In hearings before two congressional committees on Tuesday, lawmakers sought new information about the security flaws that contributed to the violence.
At a hearing, Ms. Maloney presented her National Guard’s late response committee investigation, which showed that the Capitol Police and Washington officials had made 12 “urgent requests” for their assistance and that Army leaders told the National Guard to “stand by” . “Five times when the violence escalated.
“That answer was taking too long,” said Ms. Maloney. “It’s a shocking failure.”
Records obtained by the committee indicated that as of 1:30 p.m. on January 6, senior Defense Department officials received requests for help from the Capitol Police Chief, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, and other officials. But the National Guard didn’t arrive until 5:20 p.m., more than four hours after breaking through the Capitol.
“The National Guard was literally waiting, ready, and given no green light for a critical period, hours at the end,” said Ro Khanna, Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and member of the committee.
Lawmakers had tough questions for General Charles Flynn, commanding the U.S. Army Pacific, and Lieutenant General Walter E. Piatt, director of army personnel, both of whom were involved in an important telephone conversation with police officers during the uprising, which according to the parties involved, army officers worried loudly about the “optics” of posting the guard. It was the first time the legislature heard from either of the two generals.
In their testimony, they described the desperate phone call that upset Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police chiefs when they unsuccessfully tried to get military support while rioters attacked their officers at the Capitol.
“Both speakers on the phone sounded very agitated and even panicked,” recalled General Flynn.
General Piatt, on the other hand, is a “calm” and “combat experienced leader”.
General Piatt has defended his caution when he initially advised against sending the National Guard, telling the committee that in the days leading up to January 6th he was “definitely concerned” about the public perception of the use of soldiers to lead the electoral process any way to secure it could be seen as political. “
He told the committee that the National Guard forces “were not trained, prepared or equipped to conduct this type of law enforcement operation.”
“When people’s lives are at stake, two minutes are too long,” said General Piatt. “But we were not positioned for this urgent request. We had to prepare again so that we could prepare them for this new mission. “
General Flynn is the brother of Michael T. Flynn, the disgraced former National Security Advisor to President Donald J. Trump who has emerged as one of the greatest proponents of the former president’s stolen election lie.
In a testimony presented, General Flynn said he did not participate in the call, only heard parts of it, when he entered the room while it was walking. He said he had not heard any discussion of political considerations regarding the deployment of the Guard.
“I didn’t use the word ‘optics’ nor did I hear the word on the January 6, 2021 call,” he said.
The panel did not hear a testimony from Acting Head of Capitol Police, Yogananda D. Pittman, who declined to attend on the grounds that she would hear a testimony at the other hearing before the House Administrative Committee. The Republicans were quick to criticize her decision, repeatedly referring to her absence during the session, which lasted into the evening.
Ms. Maloney said she was also “disappointed,” but added that Chief Pittman committed to testify on July 21.
At a simultaneous meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the House Administration Committee heard testimony from Michael A. Bolton, Inspector General of Capitol Police, and Gretta L. Goodwin, Director of Homeland Security and Justice for the Government Accountability Office.
Mr Bolton testified on his fourth investigation report into the January 6 failures which found the division’s tactical unit had no access to “adequate training facilities” or adequate guidelines for securing ballistic helmets and vests (two dozen were stolen during of the uprising); the agency’s first aid unit was also not equipped with adequate, less lethal weapons, amongst other things.
Mr Bolton’s reports revealed that the Capitol Police had clearer warnings of the riot than previously known, including the potential for violence that “targeted Congress itself”. He also revealed that the officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to fend off the mob, in part because they feared they might lack the training to handle the necessary equipment.
About 140 officers were injured in the attack and seven people died in connection with the siege, including an officer who suffered multiple strokes after fighting with rioters.
“It is our duty to honor the officials who gave their lives, but also to ensure the safety of all those who visit and work in the Capitol complex by making tough changes within the department,” said Bolton.
Ms. Goodwin said some of the command and control issues were reported by her agency in 2017. But the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the force’s operations, has not responded to the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations or requests for progress reports.
“To date, the board has not provided us with material information consistent with the above practices,” she said.
At previous hearings about the attack, some House Republicans took the opportunity to rewrite the January 6 story, downplay or deny the violence and divert efforts to investigate.
On Tuesday, some Republicans on the oversight committee tried to redirect the investigation to other issues, calling for an investigation into Black Lives Matter protesters or the Biden family.
“I would like to ask about the Durham Report, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Hunter’s China business and many other things,” said Georgia Republican Rep. Jody B. Hice.
The hearings came when New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, presented an assessment in the Senate by the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, which concluded that pro-Trump conspiracy theory supporters QAnon would likely attempt to use violence “including harming perceived members of the ‘Cabal’ such as Democrats and other political oppositionists”.
California spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she was considering moving forward with a special committee to further investigate the Capitol riot.
Ms. Pelosi said she preferred the Senate to approve a bipartisan commission, but that no longer seemed possible after the Senate Republicans blocked it.
“We can’t wait any longer,” she said.
Emily Cochrane and Glenn Drossel Reporting contributed.