Acting chief Pittman reveals details about Jan. 6 attack and new plot to 'blow up' SOTU address
A Wednesday hearing before the House Appropriations Committee brought in the acting chief of the Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman and acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett for questioning on incidents surrounding the Jan. 6 insurgency. This followed a Tuesday hearing before a joint Senate committee, where former chief Stephen Sund and former Sergeants at Arms Paul Irving and Michael Stenger were interviewed.
The questioning by the House—conducted in a hearing that shows that, one year later, Congress still has trouble managing a Zoom meeting—sometimes became belligerent. Pittman, the first woman and first person of color to be questioned around events related to the assault on the Capitol, faced more more aggressive questioning than any of the white men who spoke on Tuesday. She was quizzed about details of staffing on the day of the insurgency and a breakdown in communications, as well concerns about how the police had prepared for the event.
However, the questioning moved toward the goal of answering some of the questions raised in Tuesday’s hearing. That was particularly true when it came to an FBI document that was issued on the evening of Jan. 5. Still, there were issues that were not resolved, including when the Capitol Police called for National Guard assistance, and when the police board finally gave the go ahead.
During Tuesday’s hearing, a great deal of attention was given to a report issued by the FBI on the evening of Jan. 5. This report, which was sent by email, reached the Capitol Police around 7 PM that evening. However, the information did not seem to move beyond the handful of officers assigned to the department’s intelligence unit. Sund stated that he was unaware of the report until well after he had resigned his position and Pittman echoed that statement, saying she wasn’t aware until days after the insurgency.
Some of the quotes taken from militia message boards which featured in that FBI statement seemed eerily prescient of events that would happen just a few hours later: “Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in. … Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die.” The FBI statement also included information about white supremacist groups coordinating for an attack, exchanging maps of tunnels beneath the Capitol, and arranging assembly locations in multiple states.
In the Tuesday hearing, the fact that this report had not immediately been put before Sund and not treated as a reason to change preparations for the following day was repeatedly raised. With Sund, Stenger, and Irving all claiming to have not seen the report in advance of the attack on the Capitol, this appeared to be a major breakdown in communications.
However, on Wednesday Pittman pointed out additional information concerning this report. According to Pittman, the report was actually aimed at FBI agents embedded with the Capitol Police. Those agents did forward it to one officer involved in House security, but didn’t move it up the chain from there. Had the report moved forward, Pittman stated that she did not believe it would have changed either planning or “posture” for Jan. 6. That’s because, in addition to being considered “raw data,” the document itself contained specific language from the FBI advising recipients not to take action based on its contents.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a huge mistake to disregard the chatter going on between white supremacist militias and the clear signs that they were planning a coordinated assault on the Capitol. However, this would seem to indicate that the blame for that failure lies at least as much with the FBI as it does with the Capitol Police.
One interesting fact that emerged came as a number of Republican representatives appeared to be pressing the idea that the insurgency was not such a big deal. In particular, Rep. Dan Newhouse went after Pittman for saying that “tens of thousands” had been involved. This generated some interesting numbers all around. According to Pittman, various agencies determined that the total number of people listening to Trump’s speech at the Ellipse was around 30,000. Another 15,000 people were estimated to be elsewhere along the National Mall at that time. Of that group, Pittman said that “well in excess of 10,000” people breached the boundaries around the Capitol and an estimated 800 actually entered the building.
Not only does this give a scale for the size of the assault police faced on Jan. 6, it also shows that the claims Donald Trump made about the size of the crowd listening to his speech was, as usually vastly overblown.
Newhouse also followed up the statements of Republican senators on Tuesday by complaining about continued security at the House. When it came to the issue of the magnetometers, Pittman had a decisive answer—they were actually authorized by House vote. In addition, there is an existing law dating back half a century that forbids carrying firearms in the Capitol, so every member of the House who says they are bringing a gun to the floor is promising to violate that law. Congress, as Pittman noted, “is uniquely positioned to change that law if they want to.”
In response to concerns about why the National Guard and fences were still around the Capitol, Pittman provided what Sund had been unable to give the previous day: details of a specific threat. According to Pittman, they were tracking a threat to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many people as possible” during President Biden’s first State of the Union address. So while both Pittman and Blodgett stated that plans were already in the works to phase out all the fences and send the National Guard forces home … that won’t be happening right away.
It wasn’t just Republicans who had some semi-heated exchanges with Pittman. Rep. Jennifer Wexton pressured Pittman to make statements concerning the death of two officers who died in the days following the insurgency, made note of a police union “vote of no confidence,” and accused Pittman of not sticking up for her officers. She also noted that the Capitol Police had not held a single press conference since Jan. 6. Pittman refused to agree to make press conferences a part of her agenda going forward, repeatedly saying that she was focused on what was best for her officers and on communicating with House committees. Both Wexton and chair Rep. Tim Ryan came back to this point, but Pittman would not agree to the holding of any press events.
One other issue that came up again on Wednesday was the timing of requests between the Capitol Police and the two Sergeants at Arms when it came to the National Guard. In Tuesday’s testimony, Sund insisted he had requested the guard on Jan. 4. However, Irving testified that he “did not consider it a request,” and instead said that he recalled Sund saying that he “had an offer” of Guard forces, which was then rejected after further conversation between Irving, Sund, and Stenger.
On the day of the insurgency, Sund stated that he had called Irving to request the National Guard be brought in at 1:09 PM. Irving insisted he had talked to Sund at 1:28 PM, but had not actually received a request for the Guard until 2:10 PM.
In her testimony, Pittman added new data to this discussion. In addition to saying that the Capitol Police requested the deployment of the Guard “repeatedly,” Pittman said that Sund’s phone records confirmed that he reached out to Irving at 12:58 PM and Stenger at 1:05 PM. Irving had previously stated that he clearly had not received a call at the 1:09 PM time stated by Sund, because cameras showed he was on the floor of the House at that time. It’s not clear if this is also true of the earlier times.
In any case, Blodgett continued to hold the same position as his predecessors, claiming that the Capitol Police had not officially made a request of the board until at least 2:10 PM, and that the Jan. 4 discussion “wasn’t seen” as an official request.
This led to Rep. Rosa DeLauro providing what might be the most insightful statements of the entire hearing. The Capitol Police board, consisting of the two Sergeants at Arms and the Architect of the Capitol, no longer seemed to have any purpose. Rather than talking about the exact minute Sund spoke with Irving or Stenger, why was he having to consult with them at all to take action in an emergency? Simply because rules—rules that no one seems to be able to find on paper—require that any request for outside assistance from the Capitol Police be approved first by the board.
“It’s like your appendix,” said DeLauro. “It’s just there. It doesn’t have any real function,