Acting Capitol Police chief downplays value of FBI warning about Jan. 6

Lawmakers express disbelief about department operations

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman faced lawmaker questions Thursday.  (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman faced lawmaker questions Thursday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 25, 2021 at 4:04pm

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told House appropriators Thursday that although a communication breakdown kept her and other department leaders in the dark about an FBI warning of “war” at the Capitol, they would not have changed the security posture leading up to the Jan. 6 attack even if they had seen the message.

The intelligence from the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Va., was emailed to a Capitol Police lieutenant in the department’s Protective and Intelligence Operations unit on Jan. 5.

“That information was not then forwarded any further up the chain,” Pittman said.

Before Pittman ascended to chief on Jan. 8, she was assistant chief of protective and intelligence operations, a position with oversight of the police force's Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division, which partners with security and law enforcement agencies about potential threats to Congress.

Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan was floored.

“It’s stunning to think that the FBI would issue this kind of report and [it] never makes its way to the head of intelligence for the United States Capitol Police,” the Ohio Democrat said. “And it was emailed, and no one picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, you know, this is what we got.’”

Pittman’s testimony differs from that of her predecessor, former Chief Steven Sund, who testified Tuesday before a joint Senate panel that the FBI report reached a sergeant and did not go higher up the ranks. Lieutenant is a rank above sergeant.

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Asked afterward about the differing accounts and if he has any clarity on who the official who got the report was, Ryan said: “No, but we noticed that discrepancy and we’re gonna make sure we run that down.”

Even if the threat report made it to top Capitol Police leaders, it wouldn’t have made a difference, according to Pittman.

“We do not believe that that document in and of itself would have changed our posture,” Pittman said.

An estimated 10,000 rioters approached the Capitol and around 800 insurrectionists breached the building, according to Pittman. The Capitol Police had around 1,200 officers working at the time of the insurrection.

Pittman said that the police's Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division issued a final special assessment on Jan. 3 indicating that militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups would be participating, planned to be armed and could be violent.

Unlike previous protests, the groups were targeting the Joint Session of Congress to certify the Electoral College win of Joe Biden. Supporters of then-President Donald Trump saw Jan. 6 as the final chance to overturn the presidential election results, the report, which was widely shared in the department, showed.

Pittman acknowledged several department failings on the day of the attack, including officers who didn’t know when to use lethal force, a lockdown that was not properly executed, and that Capitol Police training does not adequately prepare for scenarios when the Capitol is invaded.

“However, as it relates to lethal force, our officers are only permitted to engage in lethal force for the protection of life, either their own, or to protect another person's life,” Pittman said.

Five people died as a result of the violent insurrection, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick; 125 Capitol Police officers were assaulted and over 70 injured.

There was a clear disconnect between the way Pittman saw the department’s performance and how lawmakers did.

“Fortunately, the USCP succeeded in its mission,” Pittman said in her opening statement.

Subcommittee ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler said she was standing next to officers as the insurrection was happening and that they were getting no direction from leadership in their earpieces.

“There was no coordination and you could see the fear in their eyes,” the Washington Republican said.

Pittman also downplayed the significance of a recent Capitol Police union vote in which 92 percent expressed no confidence in her. Six other top officials also received a no confidence vote.

“The numbers there are not totally accurate,” Pittman said, noting that she is working to improve the department.

It is uncertain how long Pittman will remain in her role. Ryan said there are a lot of concerns about leadership from Republicans and Democrats on the panel.

When Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., asked Pittman to commit to holding press briefings, the head of the secretive department refused.

Lawmakers also said an overhaul of the Capitol Police Board is necessary, a consistent refrain this week on both sides of the Capitol as three separate hearings raised questions about the events of Jan. 6. The board governs the department and consists of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, as well as the Capitol Police chief, who serves in a non-voting role.

“It’s like your appendix,” full Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. “It’s just there. It doesn't have any real function.”