Washington Post 6 January Report

A massive investigation into the Capitol riot looks at what came before, during, and after.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of the Washington Post, previews a three-part investigative series into the events of January 6.

Yet nearly 10 months after the attack, key questions remain: What did law enforcement officials know in advance? How did President Donald Trump respond to the deadly clash that day? What has been the fallout for Americans’ faith in their elections?

Throughout much of this year, a team of 75 Washington Post journalists has been working to produce a definitive account of Jan. 6 — its causes, its costs and its aftermath. The result of that investigation, a three-part series being published today, makes clear that the violence that day was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

“The Attack: Before, During and After” lays out in striking detail the red flags that went unheeded in advance of Jan. 6, the consequences of Trump’s inaction as his supporters laid siege to the Capitol and the continuing threats to American democracy. It provides intimate accounts of why rioters joined the siege, the unsettling threats faced by local election officials around the country, and the pain and trauma that Capitol Police officers still suffer.

The Post began this project in late spring, after efforts in Congress to create a bipartisan panel to examine the Jan. 6 attack collapsed. We launched more than 25 reporters from across the newsroom to examine different aspects of what led to the Capitol siege and its implications. Our photo, video, audio and design teams spent months mapping out a gripping presentation for the project.

I don’t have time to digest, much less dissect, the entire report this morning but I’ll get to it. In the meantime, here are the key takeaways.

Law enforcement officials did not respond with urgency to a cascade of warnings about violence on Jan. 6

Alerts were raised by local officials, FBI informants, social media companies, former national security officials, researchers, lawmakers and tipsters.

The FBI received numerous warnings about Jan. 6 but felt many of the threatening statements were “aspirational” and could not be pursued. In one tip on Dec. 20, a caller told the bureau that Trump supporters were making plans online for violence against lawmakers in Washington, including a threat against Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The agency concluded the information did not merit further investigation and closed the case within 48 hours.

One of the biggest efforts to come out of Sept. 11, 2001 — a national network of multi-agency intelligence centers — spotted a flood of Jan. 6 warnings, but federal agencies did not show much interest in its information.

The FBI limited its own understanding of how extremists were mobilizing when it switched its social media monitoring service on the last weekend of 2020.

We knew the outlines of this almost immediately. My early sense was that 1) professional intelligence and law enforcement people simply didn’t see the threats as all that serious and 2) having over-reacted to BLM and other attacks over the preceding months to much criticism, there was a conscious effort to de-escalate. I’ll be curious to see the deeper dive into this.

Pentagon leaders had acute fears about widespread violence, and some feared Trump could misuse the National Guard to remain in power

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was left rattled by Trump’s firing of senior Pentagon officials just after the election and sought to put guardrails on deployment of the National Guard.

Then-acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller did not believe Trump would misuse the military but worried that far-right extremists could bait soldiers into “a Boston Massacre-type situation.” Their fears contributed to a fateful decision to keep soldiers away from the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The details are new but this was my very-early sense of things.

The Capitol Police was disorganized and unprepared

The U.S. Capitol Police had been tracking threatening social media posts for weeks but was hampered by poor communication and planning.

The department’s new head of intelligence concluded on Jan. 3 that Trump supporters had grown desperate to overturn the election and “Congress itself” would be the target. But then-Chief Steven Sund did not have that information when he initiated a last-minute request to bring in National Guard soldiers, one that was swiftly rejected.

Again, we knew the outlines of this early.

Trump’s election lies radicalized his supporters in real time

As the president exerted pressure on state officials, the Justice Department and his vice president to overturn the results, his public attacks on the vote mobilized his supporters to immediately plot violent acts — discussions that researchers watched unfold online.

This has long been charged. I’ll be interested to see the evidence on this.

Escalating danger signs were in full view hours before the Capitol attack but did not trigger a stepped-up security response

Hundreds of Trump supporters clashed with police at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the morning of Jan. 6, some with shields and gas masks, presaging the violence to come.

D.C. homeland security employees spotted piles of backpacks left by rallygoers outside the area where the president would speak — a phenomenon the agency had warned a week earlier could be a sign of concealed weapons.

Trump had direct warnings of the risks but stood by for 187 minutes before telling his supporters to go home

For more than three hours, the president resisted entreaties fromHouse Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, other Republican lawmakers and numerous White House advisers to urge the mob to disperse, a delay that contributed to harrowing acts of violence.

We knew this in real time. Indeed, Trump was obviously rather gleeful that the attack happened. Sadly, McCarthy and others wound up effectively on Trump’s side of the fight once the danger to themselves passed.

His allies pressured Pence to reject the election results even after the Capitol siege

John C. Eastman, an attorney advising Trump, emailed Pence’s lawyer as a shaken Congress was reconvening to argue that the vice president should still reject electors from Arizona and other states.

Earlier in the day, while the vice president, his family and aides were hiding from the rioters, Eastman emailed Pence’s lawyer to blame the violence on Pence’s refusal to block certification of Biden’s victory.

Aside from the details regarding Eastman, this was understood early,

The FBI was forced to improvise a plan to help take back control of the Capitol

After the breach, the bureau deployed three tactical teams that were positioned nearby, but they were small, specialized teams and did not bring overwhelming manpower.

As the riot escalated, acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen scrambled to keep up with the deluge of calls from senior government officials and desperate lawmakers.

Senior Justice Department officials were so uncertain of what was occurring based on chaotic television images that Rosen’s top deputy, Richard Donoghue, went to the Capitol in person to coordinate with lawmakers and law enforcement agencies.

This isn’t surprising; it’s not really what the FBI does. Like most police forces, it has a SWAT-type force. But, as the name implies, it’s primarily an investigative and intelligence agency.

Repblican efforts to undermine the 2020 election restarted immediately after the Capitol attack

Eight days after the violence, state Republicans privately discussed their intention to force a review of ballots cast in Maricopa County, Ariz.,setting in motion a chaotic process that further sowed doubt in the results and a wave of similar partisan investigations in other states.

Despicable and unpatriotic but not new news.

False election claims by Trump that spurred the Capitol attack have become a driving force in the Republican Party

Nearly a third of the 390 GOP candidates around the country who have expressed interest in running for statewide office this cycle have publicly supported a partisan audit of the 2020 vote, downplayed the Jan. 6 attack or directly questioned Biden’s victory.

They include 10 candidates running for secretary of state, a position with sway over elections in many states.

Sadly true.

Trump’s attacks have led to escalating threats of violence

Election officials in at least 17 states have collectively received hundreds of threats to their personal safety or their lives since Jan. 6, with a concentration in the six states where Trump has focused his attacks on the election results.

Ominous emails and calls have spiked immediately after the former president and his allies raised new claims.

First responders are struggling with deep trauma

Those who tried to protect the Capitol are contending with serious physical injuries, nightmares and and intense anxiety. “Normal is gone,” said one Capitol Police commander.

Indeed, there have been multiple suicides.

Again, I haven’t had time to dive into the report in full. It looks from the topline summary, though, to be mostly about connecting the pieces of the puzzle that have been revealed one by one over the last ten months. I don’t think there’s any new news here for those of us who follow political news obsessively.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jax says:

    It might not be “new” news, but it makes me sick to my stomach to see it all laid out like that.

    9
  2. Dude Kembro says:

    The radical right’s violent threats against educators and election workers ought to be an ongoing national news story.

    Instead the media is focused on attacking Biden and conservatives’ paranoid anti-CRT mass hysteria.

    12
  3. KM says:

    @Dude Kembro:
    The guilty never like to talk about their crimes in public. It implies there’s something they should be held accountable for…..

    6
  4. Scott F. says:

    Despicable and unpatriotic but not new news.

    You’re right, James, this isn’t new news. But, there won’t be new news until some of the old-style Republicans we’re told still exist take a stand against the despicable and unpatriotic. And, the pressure needs to stay on them until they step up.

    4
  5. Chris says:

    The news is that not near enough has been done to hold the insurrectionists accountable or to protect election officials from intimidation and threats from the very same folks who participated or sympathized with the insurrection. God help the United States of America from those who are trying to destroy our democratic-republic.

    7
  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    If only the DOJ would put as much effort into this investigation as the WaPo has.
    It does truly seem that AG Garland is afraid of Trump, and is only going to arrest the pawns in the former guys coup attempt.
    Even Bannon…the time since his criminal contempt case was turned over to the DOJ has exceeded all precedence…it took 9 days for the last person referred to Justice to be arrested. Bannon is now on day 10. It seems clear DOJ is going to give him a pass, too.
    .

    2
  7. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.: @Chris: @Daryl and his brother Darryl: We have a longstanding tradition in this country of not going after the previous administration using the criminal justice system. There are good reasons for it and, generally speaking, I hate the criminalization of political differences. But this seems like a very different kettle of fish. A lot of high-level Trump officials, possibly even the former President himself, should be prosecuted.

    21
  8. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    I’m thinking of a new sequel to The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy finds the Orange Slippers, then leads the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man to ask the Wizard for cowardice, idiocy, and to have the heart removed.

    1
  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    Agreed…I begrudgingly agreed with Obama’s decision not to go after Bush/Cheney for what were clearly war crimes.
    But this was an explicit attempt to overthrow the Government. It cannot be allowed to stand, or the country will fall.

    9
  10. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    generally speaking, I hate the criminalization of political differences. But this seems like a very different kettle of fish. A lot of high-level Trump officials, possibly even the former President himself, should be prosecuted.

    This.

    Also, it’s funny how any thread related to Jan 6th seems to be absolute kryptonite to folks like JKB, Keef, and John430 who all appear to still be hate reading (and hate commenting on) OTB. I wonder why they never seem to give us their opinions of what happened that day and the aftermath.

    Much like on posts about Trump’s baseless and repeatedly disproven claims about a stolen election, the silence from the site’s traditional Right-Wing commenters on this topic has been absolutely deafening.

    10
  11. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    If only the DOJ would put as much effort into this investigation as the WaPo has.

    To be fair, the DoJ has been putting a lot of work in on this. Part of the problem is the sheer scope of this investigation (which honestly the DoJ isn’t well set up for) and the fact that the majority of charges are moving through one of the busiest Federal Districts in the US.

    In many ways, the 9/11 investigation was far simpler due to far fewer people being involved and the levels of politics (not to mention legal challenges) around gathering materials. All the President’s Lawyers has done some really great shows on this.

    2
  12. gVOR08 says:

    It does seem that Garland should be the key figure here, and he is doing nothing, or at least nothing visible. This may be like the first impeachment of Trump. Pelosi et al had no interest until Vindman handed them evidence that was impossible to get around. (And why isn’t Trump being prosecuted for soliciting a bribe from the government of Ukraine?) Garland may want to observe some apolitical norm. If he continues to do so, he’ll contribute to, in the next administration, AG Cruz showing us how much he respects norms. Next time around, the “Lock them up” chants will be a lot more serious.

    @James Joyner:

    But this seems like a very different kettle of fish. A lot of high-level Trump officials, possibly even the former President himself, should be prosecuted.

    Thank you for that.

    Seems to me a boiling frog situation. Ford pardoned Nixon, after all, we’d impeached him. We somehow managed to prosecute for Iran-Contra, but left Reagan out of it. After all, he was such a nice old man and visibly gah-gah. Obama refrained from prosecuting W for war crimes for fear it would look like the black guy going after the white guy. Now it seems like Garland is uninterested in prosecuting Trump for a failed coup. We won’t prosecute until there’s a successful coup. And then we won’t be able to. Seems there’s a pattern there. Anybody remember a case of ignoring significant crimes committed by a D prez?

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  13. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Anybody remember a case of ignoring significant crimes committed by a D prez?

    I don’t recall any significant, real crimes, by Carter, Clinton, or Obama. But there are imagined ones. Like Bush the younger did not prosecute Clinton for perjury, nor Hillary Clinton for whatever malfeasance was alleged from the Clinton Foundation, or selling/renting the Lincoln bedroom, or other more outrageous and evidence free accusations.

    My question is why isn’t the DoJ running a thorough investigation of criminal acts related to the Jan. 6th. Putsch committed by the GQP Congressional delegation and former trump WH and cabinet members?

    2
  14. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “We have a longstanding tradition in this country of not going after the previous administration using the criminal justice system.”

    We also have a longstanding tradition in this country of the previous administration not committing crime after crime after crime.

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  15. CSK says:

    @wr:
    Well, what could you expect from Trump? The man’s a lifelong crook. He doesn’t know how to be anything other than a crook, even in situations where it wold profit him more to be honest.

    5
  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: Seems to me a boiling frog situation. Ford pardoned Nixon, after all, we’d impeached him.

    FTR, Nixon resigned before he was impeached.

    2
  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @mattbernius:
    The only REAL difference I see between 1/6 and 9/11 is that none of the perpetrators of 9/11 were able to take an active part in the investigation of their own illegal actions.

    3
  18. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner:

    A lot of high-level Trump officials, possibly even the former President himself, should be prosecuted.

    Agreed!

    The question becomes: how do we get Republicans (not named Cheney or Kinzinger) to call for these prosecutions? Calls for criminal charges from Democrats will be dismissed as partisanship. Calls for indictments from journalists will be called “fake news.” Only some courage from Romney, Murkowski, Cassidy, and the like will get us to the honest assessment of the evidence that would support charges from the DOJ.

    3
  19. Lounsbury says:

    @Scott F.: How? Murdoch Pere dies and Liz launches a family coup d’etat backed by James (or vice versa) to boot Lachlan and return the media empire to ordinary conservatism from unhinged neo fascist yellow journal agitprop.

    2
  20. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “Murdoch Pere dies and Liz launches a family coup d’etat backed by James (or vice versa) to boot Lachlan and return the media empire to ordinary conservatism from unhinged neo fascist yellow journal agitprop.”

    Yes, but what happens if Shiv and Roman stay on Dad’s side and white knight Kendall turns out to be so pathetically needy for validation that makes a fool of himself and loses all credibility?

    3
  21. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: ??

  22. JohnSF says:

    @Lounsbury:
    I think wr is making a joke about the parallels between your scenario of intra-Murdochian combat, and the TV drama series Succession about a the power struggles of a family that own a global media empire..