Law enforcement officials told lawmakers Tuesday they were prepared for the possibility of limited violence on January 6 at the US Capitol, but the intelligence available ahead of time did not warn of a violent coordinated attack like the insurrection that overwhelmed officers and led to multiple casualties.
“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told two Senate committees at the first open hearing on the Capitol riot.
This is the first time Americans are hearing in full why intelligence and operations failed dramatically on January 6 from the very people whose choices contributed to the crisis — information that will likely help shape the search for new leaders and possibly a new security management structure on Capitol Hill.
Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee described a phone call shortly after the Capitol was breached by pro-Trump rioters, and how Pentagon officials were apparently unable or unwilling to quickly send in National Guard troops.
“I was surprised at the reluctance to immediately send the National Guard to the Capitol grounds,” he said.
Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving testified that intelligence assessments before the January 6 attack incorrectly concluded that there was only a “remote” to “improbable” chance of a civil disturbance that day, according to prepared testimony.
Irving also disputed reports he was concerned by the “optics” of National Guard members appearing on Capitol Hill, and thus had declined to request reinforcements on January 4, two days beforehand.
“We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no — the intelligence did not warrant that,” he wrote in his prepared statement. “The intelligence did warrant the plan that had been prepared by Chief Sund.”
“Based on the intelligence, we all believed that the plan met the threat, and that we were prepared,” Irving added. “We now know that we had the wrong plan.”
In a previous letter, Sund said he asked Irving and former Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger to request the National Guard before the event.
Irving said he “was concerned about the ‘optics’ and didn’t feel the intelligence supported it,” Sund wrote in his letter. The sergeant for the Senate, Stenger, suggested asking the Guard to be ready in case Sund needed them.
Captain says she’s still recovering from chemical burns
Captain Carneysha Mendoza of the US Capitol Police provided riveting testimony Tuesday morning about her firsthand experience responding to the insurrection.
“I proceeded to the Rotunda where I noticed a heavy smoke-like residue and smelled what I believed to be military grade CS gas — a familiar smell,” Mendoza said, mentioning that she served in the Army. “It was mixed with fire extinguisher spray deployed by the rioters. The rioters continued to deploy CS inside the Rotunda.”
CS is a reference to tear gas, which is often used by police as a riot control agent. Footage from the Capitol attack shows officers and rioters using chemical sprays against each other during the hours-long melee.
“Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is a lot worse inside the building versus outside, because there’s nowhere for it to go,” Mendoza said. “I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day.”
She also described the terrifying moments while she and other officers brawled with hundreds of rioters.
“At some point, my right arm got wedged between the rioters and railing along the wall,” she testified. “A (DC police) sergeant pulled my arm free and had he not, I’m certain it would have been broken.”
Search for new Capitol Police chief
On Thursday, acting USCP Chief Yogananda Pittman is scheduled to testify in an open hearing in front of the House Appropriations Committee. That will also mark the first time Pittman takes questions publicly. She previously appeared in a closed-door hearing in which she apologized to lawmakers.
Her new testimony comes as officials are starting the search for a new USCP chief.
A congressional source told CNN that Congress is moving forward with hiring an outside entity to begin the search.
Several other committees working together have already received briefings and documents from intelligence agencies as part of the numerous probes.
The House Intelligence, Homeland Security, Oversight and Judiciary committees’ joint review prompted an initial production of documents last week from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, a congressional source told CNN. Additionally, they have received several briefings from the three agencies.
The source said so far the documents have mostly been finished intelligence products that the committee could already access.
This story has been updated with testimony from Tuesday’s hearing.