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OPINION | OTHERS SAY: 1st hearing on riot offers few answers

by The Washington Post | February 24, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

“W ho’s in charge? Who was ultimately responsible for the safety of the Capitol?” Those were the questions asked by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., Tuesday after the Senate concluded its first hearing into the breakdowns in intelligence-gathering and security preparations ahead of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Good questions, and no clear answers emerged from six hours of maddening testimony marked by finger-pointing and blame-shifting. Congress has much more work to do in finding out what went wrong and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.

Former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who resigned under pressure after the attack, defended his department’s preparations for Jan. 6, blaming faulty intelligence. “None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred,” Sund told a joint meeting of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee. Former sergeants-at-arms for the Senate and House, who were also forced to resign, said they too had expected the protests to be similar to two pro-Trump events in late 2020 that were far less violent.

None of them, they sheepishly admitted, had seen a Jan. 5 bulletin from an FBI field office in Norfolk, Va., that flagged an anonymous social media threat warning of a violent assault on the Capitol. “Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in… . Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal,” read the document. That breakdown in communication — the FBI chose to send it by email instead of getting directly in touch with those responsible for guarding the Capitol — needs further investigation. Congress also still needs to find out why there was a delay in dispatching the National Guard even as the Capitol was under attack and Mr. Sund was pleading for help. Why did the Army hesitate? Was the White House interfering? Those are questions that need to be answered as the committees continue their probes and other investigations are undertaken.

Despite the contradictory recollections of events, officials agreed on some fundamental facts: The attack was an insurrection planned and coordinated by white supremacists and extremists. “These people came with equipment, climbing gear,” Sund said. Acting District of Columbia police chief Robert Contee said attackers used hand signals and coordinated their use of such irritants as bear spray. That testimony further demolishes the efforts of some Republicans to minimize the severity of the attacks, an effort that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., pathetically tried to advance at Tuesday’s hearing by reading an account that depicted the crowd on Jan. 6 as jovial and cheerful and blamed the violence on “provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters.” Balderdash.

Ultimately responsible for the Jan. 6 attack are former President Donald Trump, his lies and conspiracy theories about a stolen election, and the Republican members of Congress — almost all of them — who refused to challenge those lies. Now, even as Congress begins to investigate the shocking effort to derail democracy on Jan. 6, many of them still refuse to call out that lie for what it is.

Print Headline: 1st hearing on riot offers few answers

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