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Capitol security officials point fingers over disastrous January 6 riot response

Law enforcement officials told lawmakers Tuesday they were prepared for the possibility of limited violence on January 6 at the US Capitol, but the intelligence available ahead of time did not warn of a coordinated attack like the insurrection that overwhelmed officers and led to multiple casualties.

“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told two Senate committees at the first open hearing on the Capitol riot.

Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving testified that intelligence assessments before the January 6 attack incorrectly concluded that there was only a “remote” to “improbable” chance of a civil disturbance that day, according to prepared testimony.

This is the first time Americans are hearing in full why intelligence and operations failed dramatically on January 6 from the very people whose choices contributed to the crisis — information that will likely help shape the search for new leaders and possibly a new security management structure on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Gary Peters revealed Tuesday that an FBI report containing “troubling” information was given to US Capitol Police headquarters on the eve of January 6 but never made it to the department’s leadership, a breakdown the Michigan Democrat said is “clearly a major problem.”

“How can you not get that vital intelligence on the eve of what’s going to be a major event?” Peters asked.

Sund responded that the information was “coming in as raw data,” though he acknowledged the information would have been helpful.

“I agree that’s something we need to look at. What’s the process and how do we streamline?” he said.

Sund added that the report prompted Capitol Police to discuss its plans with Metropolitan Police and expand its perimeter for the event, though he also said that the expansion was already underway.

A coordinated attack

All four officials who testified Tuesday said they believed the January 6 insurrection was coordinated.

“These people came specifically with equipment … bringing climbing gear to a demonstration, bringing explosives, chemical spray… you’re coming in prepared,” Sund said. “I think there was significant coordination with this attack.”

DC Metropolitan Police Acting Chief Robert Contee echoed that view, telling lawmakers: “From the day of the incident, there were hand signals being used by several of the insurrectionists. There were radio communications by several individuals that were involved … I certainly believe it was coordinated.”

The question of coordination among rioters has played into the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the attack, as well as the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Some of the rioters have since claimed that they were inspired by the rush of the crowd when they stormed the Capitol. But federal prosecutors have brought several criminal charges against members of far-right extremist groups that allegedly planned the attack for weeks or months.

During Trump’s impeachment, his lawyers highlighted claims that the attack was pre-planned as part of their argument that he did not incite the violence with his incendiary speech beforehand.

Dispute over deploying National Guard

Lawmakers grilled all four witnesses Tuesday on why it took so long for the National Guard to be called in once the US Capitol was under siege.

In his initial statement, Contee described a phone call shortly after the Capitol was breached by pro-Trump rioters, and how Pentagon officials were apparently unable or unwilling to quickly send in National Guard troops.

“I was surprised at the reluctance to immediately send the National Guard to the Capitol grounds,” he said.

During his testimony, Irving disputed reports he was concerned by the “optics” of National Guard members appearing on Capitol Hill and thus had declined to request reinforcements on January 4, two days beforehand.

“We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no — the intelligence did not warrant that,” he wrote in his prepared statement. “The intelligence did warrant the plan that had been prepared by Chief Sund.”

“Based on the intelligence, we all believed that the plan met the threat, and that we were prepared,” Irving added. “We now know that we had the wrong plan.”

In a previous letter, Sund said he asked Irving and former Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger to request the National Guard before the event.

Irving said he “was concerned about the ‘optics’ and didn’t feel the intelligence supported it,” Sund wrote in his letter. Stenger suggested asking the Guard to be ready in case Sund needed them.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt asked Sund, Irving and Stenger about a request Sund claims he made for National Guard troops in the days before the riot. Sund testified he asked Irving and Stenger to make an emergency declaration, which he believed would be required to call in troops.

Irving responded that he actually did not view Sund’s inquiry as a request for troops, but instead was a conversation in which Sund said the National Guard offered to deliver 125 troops to help with crowd control.

Irving said all three men decided the intelligence about the protest didn’t warrant a military response.

Blunt also pressed on conflicting timelines about when the Guard was requested after the rally turned into a clear riot.

Sund claimed he made the request at 1:09 p.m., but Irving insisted he had no recollection of a conversation at that time, instead claiming the two spoke around 1:30 p.m.

Captain says she’s still recovering from chemical burns

Capt. Carneysha Mendoza of the US Capitol Police provided riveting testimony Tuesday morning about her firsthand experience responding to the insurrection.

“I proceeded to the Rotunda where I noticed a heavy smoke-like residue and smelled what I believed to be military grade CS gas — a familiar smell,” Mendoza said, mentioning that she served in the Army. “It was mixed with fire extinguisher spray deployed by the rioters. The rioters continued to deploy CS inside the Rotunda.”

CS is a reference to tear gas, which is often used by police as a riot control agent. Footage from the Capitol attack shows officers and rioters using chemical sprays against each other during the hours-long melee.

“Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is a lot worse inside the building versus outside, because there’s nowhere for it to go,” Mendoza said. “I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day.”

She also described the terrifying moments while she and other officers brawled with hundreds of rioters.

“At some point, my right arm got wedged between the rioters and railing along the wall,” she testified. “A (DC police) sergeant pulled my arm free and had he not, I’m certain it would have been broken.”

Search for new Capitol Police chief

On Thursday, acting USCP Chief Yogananda Pittman is scheduled to testify in an open hearing in front of the House Appropriations Committee. That will also mark the first time Pittman takes questions publicly. She previously appeared in a closed-door hearing in which she apologized to lawmakers.

Her new testimony comes as officials are starting the search for a new USCP chief.

A congressional source told CNN that Congress is moving forward with hiring an outside entity to begin the search.

Several other committees working together have already received briefings and documents from intelligence agencies as part of the numerous probes.

The House Intelligence, Homeland Security, Oversight and Judiciary committees’ joint review prompted an initial production of documents last week from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, a congressional source told CNN. Additionally, they have received several briefings from the three agencies.

The source said so far the documents have mostly been finished intelligence products that the committee could already access.

This story has been updated with testimony from Tuesday’s hearing.

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