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Security officials blame poor intel and each other for pro-Trump Capitol attack

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 2/23/2021 Dave Goldiner, Chris Sommerfeldt

Law enforcement officials responsible for protecting the U.S. Capitol blamed poor intelligence, a halting Pentagon response and even each other on Tuesday for the abysmal security breach that allowed a pro-Trump mob to storm the historic building last month in a deadly attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Before the officials delivered their testimony, a Capitol Police captain injured on Jan. 6 opened the hearing by offering a harrowing account of how the insurrectionists attacked her and other officers with “military-grade” tear gas.

“Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is a lot worse inside the building versus outside, because there’s nowhere for it go,” said the captain, Carneysha Mendoza. “I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day.”

Speaking before Congress about Jan. 6 for the first time, the four officials — all of whom resigned in the aftermath of the attack except for Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee — defended their actions during the insurrection and said they could not have foreseen the events of that bloody day.

However, they also acknowledged a string of shortcomings that paved the way for the riot, which left a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.

Steven Sund, the former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, made the startling revelation that his agency received a “critical threat” memo from the FBI on Jan. 5 warning that far-right extremists were preparing to unleash “war” the next day if Congress certified President Biden’s election — but the unnerving alert was never conveyed to Sund.

“I was just advised of that in the last 24 hours,” Sund said in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees. “That report made it ... to our intelligence bureau to a sergeant there and ceased moving forward at that point. No leadership, myself included, over at Capitol Police was made aware of that at the time.”

a man wearing a suit and tie: Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund © Provided by New York Daily News Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund (Andrew Harnik/)

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.), whose committee is taking the lead on a preliminary review of the Jan. 6 riot, could barely believe his ears and asked Sund how that “vital” piece of intelligence was kept from him on the eve of the assault.

Sund blamed an intra-agency process necessitating that such “raw” intelligence be verified before it’s passed up the chain of command.

“That information would have been helpful,” he conceded.

Moving on, Sund pointed fingers at former House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms Paul Irving and Michael Stenger, who were both at the hearing, saying he had approached them around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 about calling in the National Guard to help with security at the Capitol.

But Irving refuted that and said he didn’t hear from Sund until after 2 p.m., once right-wing rioters — egged on by former President Donald Trump’s command for them to “fight like hell” to block certification of Biden’s election — were already climbing the Capitol steps, wielding weapons, Confederate battle flags and zip ties.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, said lawmakers may need to subpoena Sund and the other officials for phone records to clear up the discrepancies.

Like Sund, Irving, Stenger and Contee said they weren’t made aware of the Jan. 5 FBI alert before the attack.

Contee complained the FBI memo was emailed to his agency without much notice. That kind of intelligence “would warrant a phone call or something,” he said.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. © bstirton Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (bstirton/)

Once the riot was underway, Contee testified about an infuriating conversation with Pentagon officials.

Contee said Army brass were slow-walking his request for National Guard assistance as rioters were already stampeding through the halls of Congress on the hunt for ex-Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other politicians they deemed “traitors” to Trump.

“I was just stunned that I have officers that are literally fighting for their lives, and we’re kind of going through what seemed like an exercise to check the boxes and there was not an immediate response,” Contee said.

It took several hours before National Guard troops eventually arrived at the Capitol.

The four officials testifying Tuesday all said their agencies did the best they could in a difficult situation and insisted the intelligence they were privy to indicated that Jan. 6 would not require better reinforcements.

“No single civilian law enforcement agency — and certainly not the USCP — is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent, and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” Sund said.

a group of people standing in front of a military uniform: After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, a tactical team with ATF gathers in the Rotunda to provide security for the continuation of the joint session of the House and Senate to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, a tactical team with ATF gathers in the Rotunda to provide security for the continuation of the joint session of the House and Senate to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
© Provided by New York Daily News

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is chairwoman of the Rules Committee, concluded the hearing by saying that more scrutiny will be necessary.

“Because clearly we have, and our members have, additional questions,” she said.

Congress plans to create an independent 9/11-style commission to examine all aspects of the storming of the Capitol, with investigations and hearings likely to continue for months, if not years.

Another congressional hearing is expected next week examining how the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department responded to the Jan. 6 attack.

Some of the Trump-loyal senators who helped acquit him of the impeachment charge sought to further whitewash the ex-president’s role in the attack during Tuesday’s session by promoting false conspiracy theories.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, an ardent Trump ally who claimed earlier this month that Jan. 6 “didn’t seem like an insurrection,” dredged up a debunked claim about “provocateurs” and “fake” Trump supporters being responsible for the attack.

“I think these were the people that probably planned this,” Johnson said.

Despite Johnson’s assertions, no evidence has emerged to suggest “fake” Trump supporters were responsible.

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