Wray: FBI followed protocol on Jan. 6 intel, but process needs improvement

FBI director says warning was relayed via three platforms

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Hart Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Hart Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 2, 2021 at 5:00pm

The Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police departments received three separate notifications of an FBI report warning of violence at the Capitol the day before the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday.

Wray said the two departments received the situational information report warning of “war” at the complex via an email to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a verbal notification through a command post briefing and a post on a law enforcement portal.

“Now again, the information was raw. It was unverified,” Wray said. “In a perfect world, we would have taken longer to be able to figure out whether it was reliable, but we made the judgment.”

Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee he didn’t see the report — prepared by the bureau’s Norfolk, Va., field office — until after the Capitol attack but it was handled according to the agency’s regular procedures.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman testified last week that her department received the email on Jan. 5 but did not mention the other avenues of communication that Wray cited.

Pittman, who oversaw intelligence at the department prior to the insurrection, said a Capitol Police lieutenant in the Protective and Intelligence Operations unit got the email but did not forward it up the chain of command. Pittman also said her department would not have changed its security posture based on the report.

Acting MPD Chief Robert Contee lamented last week that his department didn’t get enough of a heads-up from the FBI.

Representatives for the Capitol Police and the MPD did not respond to requests for comment on Wray’s testimony.

Wray said the FBI considers the Jan. 6 insurrection “domestic terrorism” and that it involved “militia violent extremists,” such as those who identify with the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers. Additionally, Wray said, there were criminals involved in the violent mob who are categorized as “racially motivated violent extremists” who advocate for “white supremacy.”

The FBI has opened hundreds of investigations in 55 of its 56 field offices and arrested more than 270 individuals in connection with the Capitol siege. Wray said domestic terrorism investigations have increased from about 1,000 when he became director in 2017 to around 2,000 currently.

Some Republicans closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, have made unfounded claims that those pro-Trump insurrectionists were anti-Trump provocateurs or the anti-fascist network antifa.

Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., asked if the FBI has found any evidence that such fake Trump protesters organized the violent siege.

“We have not seen evidence of that at this stage, certainly,” Wray responded.

“We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the sixth,” Wray added later.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked what can be done regarding intelligence sharing to ensure that information from a report like the FBI warning gets to the right people, Wray pushed back.

“We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and MPD in not one, not two, but three different ways,” he said.

“Do you think it’s enough just to send an email?” Klobuchar asked.

Wray reiterated that it was more than an email and said there may be as many as five Capitol Police officers on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“And the whole point of the Joint Terrorism Task Force is for the chosen representatives of the partner agency to be there, in the loop real-time, so that everybody’s got the same information, so that each agency can use that information to do what it needs to do,” Wray said.

Still, Wray acknowledged what happened on Jan. 6 was unacceptable and said the agency is working to improve.