Interior watchdog to examine Jan. 6 Capitol riot, events before

The probe follows the mob attack that caused the deaths of at least five people, and as agencies prepare for Inauguration Day protests

Pro-Trump rioters occupy the West Front of the Capitol and the inauguration stands on Jan. 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Pro-Trump rioters occupy the West Front of the Capitol and the inauguration stands on Jan. 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 15, 2021 at 1:52pm

The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said Friday it would open an investigation into the department’s activities in the days preceding the violent attack on Congress and the Capitol as well as its response to that assault.

In a brief statement, the inspector general said it would “coordinate” its inquiry with parallel probes by three other federal departments. Inspectors general at the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are planning investigations as well.

The probe comes in the wake of a turbulent week for law enforcement agencies as they recover from the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, which led to the deaths of at least five people, and prepare for attacks around Inauguration Day in Washington and at state capitals by mobs supporting President Donald Trump's false claims about the legitimacy of President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory.

A sprawling agency that focuses on public lands, mining, offshore leasing, geology and indigenous issues, Interior also includes the National Park Service, which has law enforcement officers, and the U.S. Park Police.

The IG's office “plans to initiate a review designed to examine the Department of the Interior’s role and activities in preparing for and responding to the events on January 6, 2021, including the incidents at the U.S. Capitol,” it said in a news release. “The Department of the Interior OIG will coordinate its review with the independent reviews also being conducted by the Offices of Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice.”

[Invisible to most Americans, Park Police now in the spotlight]

Representatives of the Park Police and the National Park Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the newly announced investigation or preparations for next week when Biden is scheduled to be sworn in as president.

The USPP has offices in New York, San Francisco and Washington, and its officers are responsible for protecting iconic sites like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, as well as visitors.

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'Ill-prepared'

Kenneth Spencer, chairman of the US Park Police Fraternal Order of Police, said officers from the New York division are coming to Washington in preparation for next week.

Spencer said the USPP is ill-prepared for potential unrest, citing outdated gear, heavy turnover and difficulty retaining officers, adding that he was grateful other agencies will be in Washington. The Park Police can't handle large crowds as it once did, such as the Occupy D.C. a decade ago, he said.

“We have a bunch of equipment that we’re supposed to get, and we never got it,” he said. “If you look at our riot shields, they’re riot shields from the 1990s.”

Some USPP officers have the right equipment, he said. “But the vast majority of us are using old rectangular, plastic shields, and the old motorcycle helmets that we still have.”

Spencer said the Park Police do not have sufficient personnel to peel off violent members of a crowd and separate them from a larger crush. “We’re not able to enter that craziness,” he said. “We don’t have the people to just go in there and grab these people.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she asked retired Army lieutenant general Russell Honoré, who oversaw military efforts to stabilize the chaotic Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to lead a review of the security infrastructure around the Capitol and interagency processes to protect the legislative branch. He accepted the role, she said.

Congressional committees will also continue to conduct oversight related to the attacks and security posture, she added.

“There is strong interest in the Congress in a 9/11-type commission” to assess what happened, Pelosi said.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.