Capitol Police chief disputes FBI’s account of pre-insurrection warnings

Pittman called potential plan to breach the Capitol by a militia group on March 4 “concerning”

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Posted March 3, 2021 at 3:03pm

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said her department received only an email warning of “war” at the Capitol, disputing testimony Tuesday by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said his agency communicated the intelligence three different ways on the eve of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

“The FBI only sent the email,” Pittman told House appropriators Wednesday.

Pittman appeared before the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee asking for a fiscal 2022 budget of $619.2 million, a boost of more than $100 million over the previous year.

The budget request would add 212 sworn officers to fund a total of 2,112 uniformed and 453 civilian employees. The force would use the additional officers for a standby quick response force, as threat assessment agents and as dignitary protection agents.

Wray testified on Tuesday that the raw, unverified situational information report prepared Jan. 5 by the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Va., was shared with the Capitol Police via an email to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, verbally through a command post briefing and as a post on a law enforcement portal.

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

The information never reached Capitol Police leadership because of internal communication breakdowns, officials have said. But even if it did, Pittman has maintained it wouldn’t have changed the security posture of her department. She also cast doubt on how seriously the FBI considered the threat in the Norfolk report.

“If the FBI thought that that Norfolk document was the smoking gun that many have alleged — it is not, in our assessment — that information would have been communicated directly to high-level executives, like Chief [Steven A.] Sund, from the Joint Terrorism Task Force Executive Committee,” Pittman said.

Carol Cratty, a spokesperson for the FBI, said Wray stands by his testimony.

“The Director addressed this several times in yesterday’s congressional hearing and there’s no change in our response,” Cratty said in an emailed statement.

Before she became chief on Jan. 8, Pittman oversaw the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD), an entity that partners with security and law enforcement agencies to obtain information about potential threats to Congress.

Pittman has been fighting to keep her job and defended her lack of popularity among the officers. She said she has increased her communications with officers, has regularly met with them and directed department intelligence analysts to brief rank-and-file officers.

The union issued a 92 percent no confidence vote on her leadership last month. Additionally, the union has called for her firing, a request that Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, has said he supports.

Ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., asked Pittman if she feels she has the confidence of most of her officers.

“I do believe that’s an accurate assessment,” Pittman responded.

Gus Papathanasiou, the leader of the Capitol Police union, said he was shocked by Pittman’s answer.

“I’m dumbfounded she actually thinks the majority of the officers have confidence in her leadership,” Papathanasiou said in a text message Wednesday. “The percentages of the officers who voted in the no confidence and the Union feel otherwise.”

Threats on the rise

Capitol Police has information that shows a potential plan to breach the Capitol by a militia group on March 4, intelligence that Pittman described as “concerning.” She said the department is prepared to respond and is working with law enforcement partners to keep the Capitol complex safe.

“We have enhanced our security posture,” Pittman said. “We’ve taken immediate steps to let the National Guard as well as our workforce know what to expect tomorrow and going forward.”

The sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday acknowledged the “new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group.”

The House is now planning to adjourn for the week on Wednesday night, due at least in part to the security concerns.

In her written statement, Pittman noted that threats against members are substantially increasing.

“In the first two months of 2021, there has been a 93.54 percent increase in threats to Members compared to the same period in 2020,” she said.

Ryan, along with other lawmakers on the panel, noted that the force needs funding increases in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.