Congressional Staff Pressed Justice Department Officials For Safety Plans Before The Capitol Riot
“Soooo this has taken a turn for the worse,” one congressional staffer wrote to federal law enforcement agencies during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
WASHINGTON – At least two congressional staffers from House and Senate committees reached out to the FBI and the Justice Department concerned about security at the Capitol ahead of the Jan. 6 riots, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The inquiries support accusations that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were not prepared for the pro-Trump mob that stormed the US Capitol despite direct warnings and calls for help.
BuzzFeed News is publishing another cache of documents turned over by the Justice Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the agency and the FBI related to events around Jan. 6. Emails released last November revealed that top Justice Department officials were told there were “no credible threats” hours before the riot.
The House Intelligence Committee on Jan. 5, 2021, requested a threat assessment and clarification on coordination between the FBI and the Defense Department related to the joint session, citing a “heightened public concern” about the role of law enforcement during the presidential transition.
“In response, the Committee received a brief and non-substantive reply from the FBI that did not provide any information about potential threats on January 6,” a House Intel committee official told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
Another Democratic staffer from the Senate Appropriations Committee sent multiple emails before and during the Capitol riot asking if additional law enforcement would be deployed ahead of Congress’s joint session. The messages highlight the concern some congressional offices felt ahead of the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, where then-president Donald Trump was expected to promote the falsehood of a stolen presidential election.
The unidentified Senate staffer’s correspondence with DOJ and the FBI began as early as Jan. 4 and ran until Jan. 7, according to the report. The staffer requested information before Jan. 6 as to which law enforcement agencies were on the ground and which agency was managing the ground forces and asked if DOJ had deployed air assets. But on the day the mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol, the emails to DOJ took on a new sense of urgency.
By 2:45 p.m., 30 minutes after the rioters forced their way into the Capitol and ransacked the Senate chambers, the staffer sent an alarming message inquiring about DOJ’s presence.
“Sooooo this has taken a turn for the worse,” the staffer wrote. “Can we have an update as to DOJ involvement, please?”
The staffer also emailed the agencies immediately after Jan. 6. The committee would not identify the staffer but confirmed the office was in contact with DOJ and the FBI.
“We can confirm this was a staffer on the Appropriations Committee (minority staff at the time) asking relevant and timely questions to the DOJ and FBI, over which the committee has oversight, about a developing situation,” a committee spokesperson said in a statement.
The Justice Department turned over additional documents as part of the new FOIA release, including intelligence memos prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI that were sent to state and federal law enforcement agencies before and after the insurrection summarizing threats and the potential for civil unrest. One of the memos notes the FBI had monitored reports about "various threats to harm" then-president-elect Joe Biden, vice president–elect Kamala Harris, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Subsequent intelligence memos produced in the weeks following the insurrection tallied the number of tips passed onto the FBI, which by Jan. 21 reached 208,799.
Additionally, the Justice Department released a redacted copy of then–acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue's handwritten notes from a Jan. 4, 2021, phone call he had with Michael Sherwin, the then–acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, that discusses crowd estimates and law enforcement plans. Donoghue’s notes say: "no need for additional resources now."
Congressional leaders peppered FBI and DOJ officials for answers on what they knew in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and how they planned to respond during a closed-door briefing on Jan. 12, according to a transcript of the call released as part of the new FOIA cache. The FBI told members during the briefing that they had issued eight wanted posters for 72 individuals who were captured on camera. A year later, the arrest count exceeds 700.
But the Justice Department redacted much of the responses to lawmakers' questions, citing national security, ongoing law enforcement investigations, and law enforcement techniques and procedures.
Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, asked about the security threat ahead of Trump’s Jan. 13 impeachment vote and sought to get clarification on whether the temporary fencing erected after the riots was enough protection for the Capitol complex.
An FBI representative explained that the physical security of the Capitol and crowd control were not the purview of the agency.
“We are not experts in determining if the Capitol was hardened enough.”