Marquee hearing on Jan. 6 Capitol attack shows security disarray

Former Capitol Police chief, sergeant-at-arms provide differing accounts

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund arrives at the Capitol to testify in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Rules and Senate Administration Committee joint hearing on Tuesday. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund arrives at the Capitol to testify in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Rules and Senate Administration Committee joint hearing on Tuesday. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 23, 2021 at 7:47pm

Tuesday’s high-profile public hearing to examine the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol exposed inconsistencies from former security officials on what occurred, a fragmented Capitol Police Board and unwillingness to call a failure a failure.

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told lawmakers Tuesday that his department received a Jan. 5 FBI intelligence report from the bureau’s Norfolk field office warning of a “war” the following day, but that a sergeant in the department’s intelligence unit who received the vital information did not elevate it to the top.

“The United States Capitol Police department did get that report. I was just advised of that in the last 24 hours,” Sund said. “That report made it from the joint terrorism task force over to our intelligence bureau, over to a sergeant there, and ceased moving forward at that point. No leadership, myself included, over at Capitol Police was made aware of that at the time of the event.”

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Still, Sund defended his department.

“Contrary to what others have said, the USCP did not fail,” Sund told the joint hearing of the Senate Rules and Administration and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.

The mission of the Capitol Police is to protect the Congress. Sund, in his written testimony, used the word “successful” to describe the department on Jan. 6: “Although we were successful in accomplishing our mission on January 6, 2021, and no Members were injured and the legislative process was able to continue just a few hours later, Congress and the USCP must nevertheless look at this event and identify area for improvement and systems that broke down or failed.”

Why the report did not make it to leadership is unclear. Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving also testified that they did not see the FBI intelligence report before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Sund noted that the FBI report was “raw intelligence” and was not aligned with the other intelligence he was privy to.

“None of the other intelligence was showing that we were looking at this type of a broad insurrectionist type of event with thousands of armed, coordinated individuals,” Sund said.

Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer, died from injuries he suffered defending the Capitol from the pro-Trump mob. In addition, 125 Capitol Police officers were physically assaulted and more than 70 other Capitol Police officers were injured in the violent attack.

All three of the former Capitol officials testifying — Sund, Stenger and Irving — and several senators acknowledged there was a need to review the way in which the Capitol Police Board, which governs the department, is set up. The Capitol Police Board is made up of the Architect of the Capitol and the two sergeants-at-arms. The current architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, was not part of Tuesday’s hearing.

There were conflicting accounts from Sund and Irving on when Sund asked for National Guard assistance on the day of the insurrection. Sund said that by 1:09 p.m. he had notified both Irving and Stenger of the department’s need for a state of emergency declaration and National Guard help. That request was not approved by the Capitol Police Board until after 2 p.m.

“Senator, from my recollection, I did not receive a request for approval for National Guard until shortly after 2 p.m.,” Irving said in response to a question from Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who serves as ranking member on the Rules and Administration Committee.

Several senators, including Blunt, Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Texas Republican Ted Cruz, asked for phone records to be produced in order to take a closer look at the situation. Sund said he does not have a recording of the 1:09 p.m. phone call in question and intends to produce his phone records to the Senate panels.

“I’m not gonna, you know, guess why he doesn’t remember,” Sund said of Irving.

Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said changes are needed in the structure of the Capitol Police Board, including providing the chief with more authority during extreme times, such as Jan. 6.

“The image of the chief trying to reach the two sergeants-at-arms while they are trying to protect the members is not one you want to repeat again,” Klobuchar said. “So, the chief, there has to be for the new chief some greater ability to make decisions leading into a crisis and then during crisis with still some management for some kind of police accountability board.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., also said the structure of the board needs change, evidenced by the disagreement surrounding the call between Sund and Irving.

“What that dispute reveals is that there is no individual singularly in charge of the security of the U.S. Capitol complex,” Ossoff later told reporters. “More important than unpicking the conflicting accounts is recognizing that that is a failure of institutional design, which requires reform.”

Klobuchar told reporters there will “be big questions of the FBI next week” regarding the distribution of the intelligence bulletin. She also said as they “look to new chiefs and are interviewing new chiefs” there needs to be an improved process for sharing information between agencies.

She emphasized that changes to the decision-making process for the department were critical. “To have that structure where, in a crisis, he’s trying to go to them while they’re trying to protect the members, it doesn’t really make any sense at all. So the structure has to be changed,” Klobuchar said.

Beyond structure, the department’s union says wide-ranging personnel changes at the top are necessary.

Gus Papathanasiou, the head of the Capitol Police union, issued a statement criticizing the former leaders of the Capitol Police.

“The root cause of the USCP’s failure on January 6th was a failure of leadership,” Papathanasiou said in a statement. “I think the senators saw that dysfunction on display today.”

Seven top Capitol Police officials recently received “no confidence” votes from the union, showing discontent among officers with current leadership, including acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, who assumed the top role in the department on Jan. 8 when she succeeded Sund after his resignation.

One takeaway from Tuesday’s hearing is that this is just the beginning of Congress’ look at what led to the breakdown of security on Jan. 6 and what comes next. Klobuchar told reporters that up next would be a hearing that would feature officials at the Defense Department to discuss coordination among government security officials and agencies.

Asked if her panel would be hearing from Pentagon officials, Klobuchar replied, “Yes, they’re coming next week. We’re having another hearing.”