US Capitol Police watchdog to testify on Jan. 6 failures
The top watchdog for the U.S. Capitol Police will testify for the first time on Thursday about the department’s broad failures before and during the Jan. 6 insurrection, including missed intelligence predicting a "war" and weapons that were so old that officers didn’t feel comfortable using them.
Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton has investigated the force’s missteps since the siege, when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters broke into the building and sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives. In a report obtained by The Associated Press, he paints a dire picture of his agency’s ability to respond to future threats and casts serious doubt on whether the force would be able to respond to another large-scale attack.
The Capitol Police have so far refused to publicly release the report — prepared in March and marked as "law enforcement sensitive" — despite congressional pressure. Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who heads the House Administration Committee, said last month that she found the report, along with another the department had circulated internally, "detailed and disturbing." Lofgren’s committee is holding Thursday’s hearing.
Bolton found that the department’s deficiencies were — and remain — widespread: Equipment was old and stored badly; officers didn’t complete required training; and there was a lack of direction at the Civil Disturbance Unit, which exists to ensure that legislative functions of Congress are not disrupted by civil unrest or protest activity. That was exactly what happened on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters violently pushed past police and broke into the Capitol as Congress counted the Electoral College votes that certified Joe Biden’s victory.
The report also focuses on several pieces of missed intelligence, including an FBI memo sent the day before the insurrection that then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told lawmakers he never saw. The memo warned of threatening online postings by Trump backers, including one comment that Congress "needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in" and blood being spilled.
"Get violent … Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest," read one post recounted in the memo. "Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal."
A separate report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in December alerted the police to messages on a blog where people appeared to be planning for Jan. 6. One online post included a map of tunnels under the Capitol used by lawmakers and staff. "Take note," the message said.
The Capitol Police said in a statement Wednesday that officials had already made some of the improvements recommended in the report, and that the siege was "a pivotal moment" in history that showed the need for "major changes" in how the department operates. Still, they said that they would need more money and staff to make improvements.
"It is important to note that nearly all of the recommendations require significant resources the department does not have," the statement said.
The report also provides new information on the movements of the Capitol Police as officers scrambled to evacuate lawmakers. An appendix to the document details previously unknown conversations among officials as they disagreed on whether National Guard forces were necessary. It quotes an Army official telling Sund, after the insurrectionists had broken in, that "we don’t like the optics of the National Guard standing in a line at the Capitol."
The riot has pushed the Capitol Police force toward a state of crisis, with officers working extra shifts and forced overtime to protect the Capitol. The acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, received a vote of no confidence from the union in February, reflecting widespread distrust among the rank and file who were left exposed and injured as the violent mob descended on the building. Morale has plummeted.
The entire force is also grieving the deaths of three of their own. Officer Brian Sicknick collapsed and died after engaging with protesters on Jan. 6. Officer William "Billy" Evans was killed April 2 when he was hit by a car that rammed into a barricade outside the Senate. Evans laid in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.
A third officer, Howard Liebengood, died by suicide in the days after the insurrection.
The report describes in detail how department equipment was substandard, including at least 11 different types of munitions that appeared to have expired. Some equipment hadn’t been replaced in more than two decades. Riot shields that shattered upon impact as the officers fended off the violent mob had been improperly stored. Weapons that could have fired tear gas were so old that officers didn’t feel comfortable using them. Other weapons that could have done more to disperse the crowd were never staged before a Trump rally held near the White House, and those who were ordered to get backup supplies to the front lines could not make it through the aggressive crowd.
In other cases, weapons weren’t used because of "orders from leadership," the document says. Those weapons — called "less lethal" because they are designed to disperse rather than kill — could have helped the police repel the rioters as they moved toward the Capitol after Trump’s speech, according to the report.
The timeline attached to the report also gives a more detailed look at Capitol Police movements, commands and conversations as the chaos unfolded. It recounts several instances in which police and SWAT teams rescued individual lawmakers trapped in the Capitol and sheds new light on conversations in which Sund begged for National Guard support. Sund and others, including the head of the D.C. National Guard, have testified that Pentagon officials were concerned about the optics of a military response.
The document quotes Army Staff Secretary Walter Piatt telling Sund and others on a call that "we don’t like the optics" of the National Guard at the Capitol and he would recommend not sending them. That was at 2:26 p.m.; rioters had already smashed their way into the building.
The Pentagon eventually did approve the Guard’s presence, and Guard members arrived after 5 p.m. While they were waiting, Sund also had a teleconference with Vice President Mike Pence, the timeline shows. Pence was in a secure location in the Capitol because he had overseen the counting of the electoral votes. Some rioters were calling for his hanging because he refused to try and overturn Biden’s win.
The AP reported on Saturday that Pence also had a conversation that day with the acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, in which Pence demanded, "Clear the Capitol."