Missed intelligence was to blame for the outmanned US Capitol defenders’ failure to anticipate the violent mob that invaded the iconic building and halted certification of the presidential election on January 6, an inquiry has heard.
The officials who were in charge of security that day made the claim on Tuesday in their first public testimony on the insurrection.
The officials, including the former chief of the Capitol Police, pointed their fingers at various federal agencies – and each other – for their failure to defend the building as supporters of then-President Donald Trump overwhelmed security barriers, broke windows and doors and sent lawmakers fleeing from the House and Senate chambers.
Five people died as a result of the riot, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot as she tried to enter the House chamber with lawmakers still inside.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned under pressure immediately after the attack, and the other officials said they had expected the protests to be similar to two pro-Trump events in late 2020 that were far less violent. Sund said he hadn’t seen an FBI field office report that warned of potential violence citing online posts about a “war”.
Sund described a scene as the mob arrived at the perimeter that was “like nothing” he had seen in his 30 years of policing and argued that the insurrection was not the result of poor planning by Capitol Police but of failures across the board.
“No single civilian law enforcement agency – and certainly not the USCP – is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent, and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” he testified.
The hearing was the first of many examinations of what happened that day, coming almost seven weeks after the attack and over a week after the Senate voted to acquit Trump of inciting the insurrection by telling his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat.
Fencing and National Guard troops still surround the Capitol in a wide perimeter, cutting off streets and footpaths that are normally full of cars, pedestrians and tourists.
The joint hearing, part of an investigation by two Senate committees, was the first time the officials testified publicly about the events of January 6.
Even after the hearing, much still remains unknown about what happened before and during the assault.
Even without the intelligence, there were clear signs that violence was a possibility on January 6. Far-right social media users openly hinted for weeks that chaos would erupt at the US Capitol while Congress convened to certify the election results.
After smashing through the barriers at the perimeter, the invaders engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police officers, injuring dozens of them, and broke into the building.
Pentagon officials, who will be invited to testify before the committee at a second hearing next week, have said it took time to put the troops in position, and there was not enough contingency planning in advance. They said they offered the assistance beforehand but were turned down.
The hearing Tuesday was the first of several this week examining what went wrong January 6.
A House subcommittee will examine damage to the Capitol on Wednesday and will hear testimony from current security officials
Congress is also considering a bipartisan, independent commission, and multiple congressional committees have said they will look at different aspects of the siege.
Federal law enforcement has arrested more than 230 people who were accused of being involved in the attack, and Attorney-General nominee Merrick Garland said in his confirmation hearing on Monday that investigating the riot would be a priority.