In the first Senate hearing held regarding the events that led to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building, police officials blamed communications breakdowns between intelligence agencies and lamented bureaucratic logistics that slowed the National Guard’s ability to provide backup.
As Sen. Tom Carper put it during his questioning, in quoting the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Steven Sund, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief at the time of the Jan. 6 riots, said a lack of intelligence led his officers to believe they would be facing a "mass demonstration event with some violence" similar to past Trump rallies.
However, Sund said his officers were not prepared for a “military-grade assault on the Capitol,” adding that the riots were "the worst attack on law enforcement" he's seen in his 30-year career.
“These criminals were prepared for war," Sund said.
Sund and his fellow former members on the Capitol Police Board — Michael Stenger, the former Senate Sergeant at Arms and Paul D. Irving, the former House Sergeant at Arms — also admitted that Capitol police officers had not been trained to deal with an insurrection of that scale. In fact, Sund admitted Tuesday that officers aren’t trained at all to deal with a situation where rioters have infiltrated the Capitol.
Police officials argued that it wasn’t just training or intelligence collection that needed to be changed, but the manner of communication. Acting D.C. Metro Police Chief Robert Contee told lawmakers that he did not receive intelligence regarding a potential Jan. 6 riot until he received an email from the FBI at 7 p.m. on Jan. 5.
Contee later testified that he felt that information warranted a phone call from investigators.
“I’m the chief of police. I promise you, my phone is on 24/7,” Contee said.
Officials in attendance also called for changes to the way D.C.-area law enforcement could call for backup.
In the case of the Capitol Police, Sund told lawmakers that he did not have the authority to call in the National Guard — he needed the approval of both the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms. The trio decided on Jan. 4 that current intelligence did not warrant the use of the National Guard, but were told that 125 unarmed guardsmen would be on standby if needed.
In the case of D.C. Metro police, Contee testified that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser does not have the authority to summon the National Guard as state governors do. Instead, D.C. officials must navigate a channel of approvals of top military officials before receiving backup from the guard.
However, what was in agreement was that the Jan. 6 riot was meticulously planned and coordinated by the assailants, included white supremacists and could have resulted in the injury of lawmakers had it not been for the bravery of the officers who responded.
Tuesday’s hearing began with a statement from Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, who called the Jan. 6 riots the “worst of the worst” events she’s responded to in her 19-year career.
“We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating,” Mendoza said. “As an American and as an Army veteran, it’s sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens. I’m sad to see the unnecessary loss of life, I’m sad to see the impact this has had on fellow Capitol Police officers, and I’m sad to see the impact this has had on our agency and our country.
Tuesday’s hearing also included a line of questioning from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, that seemed to downplay the role of Trump supporters at the riots. During his questioning, Johnson read a letter from a Trump supporter who described a "jovial mood" following Trump's speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.
The letter then described Capitol police firing tear gas on peaceful protesters in response to "provocateurs" and "fake Trump protesters."
All accounts make it clear that it was Trump supporters and right-wing groups who breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6, despite conspiracy theories that place blame on "antifa" and other left-wing groups.
Notably, Johnson told reporters following Trump's impeachment trial that he did not believe the actions of Jan. 6 amounted to an "armed insurrection," despite video evidence that armed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.