Ousted Capitol Security Heads Face Questions About Attack : The NPR Politics Podcast Under questioning from senators about the attack on the Capitol, the law enforcement officials who oversaw the building's security were quick to lay blame elsewhere. And an NPR investigation offers context on everyone charged in connection with the insurrection.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, justice correspondent Ryan Lucas, and investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach.

Subscribe to the NPR Politics Podcast here.
Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org.
Join the NPR Politics Podcast Facebook Group.
Listen to our playlist The NPR Politics Daily Workout.
Subscribe to the NPR Politics Newsletter.
Find and support your local public radio station.
NPR logo

Ousted Capitol Security Heads Face Questions About Attack

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/970670147/970690249" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Ousted Capitol Security Heads Face Questions About Attack

Ousted Capitol Security Heads Face Questions About Attack

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/970670147/970690249" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEPHEN O'DONNELL: Hey, I'm Stephen O'Donnell (ph). I'm here in Los Angeles, Calif. I just got home after a really long day of doing dental checkups and treatment for kids. This podcast was recorded at...


2:08 p.m. on Tuesday, February 23.

O'DONNELL: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I'll still probably be singing the "Baby Shark" song to kids as I count their teeth at their appointment. Here's the show.



RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Not the "Baby Shark" song.


KEITH: The "Baby Shark" song has fully invaded my life.

GRISALES: When you have kids, it's a requirement.

KEITH: Yes. But I'll be listening to the podcast, for instance, and then a small child will yell, Alexa, play "Baby Shark."


GRISALES: I love it.

KEITH: I don't.

GRISALES: (Laughter).

KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

LUCAS: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

GRISALES: And I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

KEITH: So, Claudia, today before the Senate was the first hearing into the January 6 attack. And this was a joint hearing with really a blockbuster group of witnesses, people that we've all been wanting to hear from. Talk us through it.

GRISALES: This is the first time we hear from these top capital security officials who were at the helm the day of the insurrection. This is former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, ex-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger. They all resigned their posts after the capital siege under pressure from congressional leaders. Sund in particular was emotional in his opening remarks. Let's take a listen.


STEVEN SUND: I want to again recognize the heroic efforts of the Capitol Police officers, who on January 6, outnumbered and against the odds, successfully carried out their mission to protect the members of Congress and the legislative process. I couldn't have been more proud to be part of their team and the USCP mission.

GRISALES: All three former Capitol security officials agree that the January 6 attack was planned and coordinated, and it involved white supremacists and extremist groups. Sund in particular has been the most detailed in his reconstruction of the events leading up to the day of the insurrection. He repeated today remarks he's said in the past, which was that this was a clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence that led to the breach, and it wasn't poor planning by his agency.

KEITH: And we should also add that the acting chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, Robert Contee, also testified remotely that the D.C. Metro Police were very much involved, and many officers were injured in this insurrection.

LUCAS: I want to return to something that you said, Claudia, because it struck me during the hearing, about how much these individuals - all of the four folks who testified today - really did try to pin some of the blame for the security failure on January 6 on intelligence, on a lack of clear, actionable intelligence from the intelligence community, primarily the FBI, about what was going to happen on January 6. But there was some discrepancy between what they were saying, and there was also some kind of internal contradictions in what they were saying - right?

KEITH: Yeah, spell that out.

GRISALES: So we saw, for example, Sund and Irving contradict each other in particular. Sund has said - even in the days following the insurrection, he said this to me and other members of the media - is that he saw a concern when he brought up this idea of having the National Guard be present at this new perimeter. They created a new perimeter that day with bicycle racks. They expanded that perimeter for the Capitol, and they wanted to see if it was possible if the guard could stand at this new perimeter. And he said that Irving told him he was concerned about optics. And this goes to a whole long-standing discussion at the Capitol - resistance to having military presence here. It ties into calls to have fencing here, which has been going on for the last 40 years. And so that's the impression Sund has given. Irving directly contradicted him today, saying it wasn't optics. This was - this had to do with intelligence.

KEITH: The image that comes to mind is, like, everybody pointing in a different direction.


KEITH: And pointing - when they point to, well, we didn't have the intelligence, they are pointing outside of the room to people that weren't testifying there today but will testify later. But, Ryan, I don't know that they can really blame this all on intelligence. There was intelligence.

LUCAS: There was intelligence. And we did hear some of that today from Sund in particular. Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan asked Sund about a report in The Washington Post from January that cited a U.S. Capitol Police internal intelligence assessment from January 3 about what was expected on the 6. And that memo, according to Peters, what Peters read - and Sund didn't contradict any of it - the memo said that, unlike in previous post-election protests in November and December by Trump supporters, that Trump supporters on the 6 were not expected to go after counter-protesters but would target Congress itself. So the Capitol Police had intelligence internally as of January 3 warning that the Capitol itself could be a target, warning that Proud Boys, warning that other extremist groups would be in the crowd and that there was a potential - there was a possibility of violence. And what Sund told lawmakers was that, well, yeah, we did have that. And what we did in response was expand the perimeter. But we didn't have any actionable intelligence that would make us change beyond that.

He was also asked about an FBI report from January 5 that got a lot of coverage after the insurrection when it came out that the FBI Norfolk office had sent information to the Capitol Police on January 5, the eve of the insurrection, warning more specifically of the potential for violence, people calling for war at the Capitol on the 6. And Sund said that the Capitol Police received that information from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is with the FBI and other security agencies, and that that information made it into the intelligence division of the Capitol Police, but did not make it any step beyond that. It didn't make it to Sund himself. It didn't make it to the sergeants-at-arms for the House and the Senate. So the leadership, the people who were in charge of preparations for security on the 6, weren't aware of it.

KEITH: This is definitely one of those things where, although we got some answers, I feel like we also got a lot more questions. And, you know, I think that this is one of those things where these are questions that will be asked and answered for months, at least, to come.

LUCAS: Well - and a lot of these aren't easy questions to answer. I mean, another thing was, you know, looking at how the National Guard can be deployed or authorized in D.C. It's a complicated process. It's not as simple as in other states. Talk about how the Capitol Police can authorize it. Talk about how the D.C. mayor can authorize it. Like, these are not things where you just kind of flip a switch and everything's OK. They do have a lot of moving parts that people have to understand and figure out and make sure that they're going to work in the future.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break. Claudia, thank you for being here with us.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

KEITH: And when we come back, NPR's reporting on all the people charged in the insurrection and what we know about them.

And we're back. And I want to talk about some great reporting from NPR about the riot, the insurrection and exactly who was involved. Tom Dreisbach is here for that. Hey, Tom.


KEITH: You are part of our investigations team at NPR, and you've been digging into all of these documents and really detailed information about who these people are. So tell us about what you found.

DREISBACH: Yeah, sure. So we on the investigations team - and it's really a big team effort. We've been looking at every single charge related to the Capitol riot, and at this point, it's more than 200 people who have been charged, close to around 250 at this point.


DREISBACH: And, you know, we had people from different states, different backgrounds affiliated with different extremist groups or different - had different motivations. Like, you know, there was the Olympic gold medalist Klete Keller, who's facing charges alongside current police officers, alongside a former member of the Latin Kings Gang, a messianic rabbi. And so it was just this wide group of people.


DREISBACH: And what we wanted to do was, like, see if there's any commonalities in this chaos, in this wide group of people.

KEITH: And are there patterns? I assume you have found patterns.

DREISBACH: (Laughter) Yeah. So one of the things we've been looking at closely are the number of people who have been tied to extremist or fringe groups in the charges. And so that includes some people who subscribe to the conspiracy theory QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory. And then there's groups that are more established, extremist groups. Like, there's the far-right group known as the Oath Keepers - they're an anti-government militia - and then the group known as the Proud Boys, which is like a far-right gang.

Overall, we've been looking also at the number of people with ties to the military or law enforcement. You know, at this point - and, you know, let me actually just check the database because this changes every day. There are - let's see. There are 36 people currently of those charged who have military or law enforcement ties. And, you know...

KEITH: So that's more than 10%.

DREISBACH: That's...

KEITH: I mean, I'm not good at math. I'm in radio. But that's more than 10%.

DREISBACH: Yeah, it's about 14% of the total charges so far. And to put that in context a little bit, about 7% of the American adult population are military veterans. So this is definitely an overrepresentation of that group.

LUCAS: And, Tom, of those, how many of them also have alleged ties to extremist groups?

DREISBACH: We have 13 people who are both affiliated with law enforcement or the military as well as an extremist or fringe group, according to, you know, federal court records. And that - you know, that's been an issue in the military that top military leaders have been pointing out, this concern that there may be extremism in the ranks. The new head of the Defense Department, Lloyd Austin, has said this is a top priority for him.

And one of the reasons is that these groups have specifically targeted veterans for recruitment. I mean, the Oath Keepers - you know, they'll take everyone who would join them. They're not a particularly large group, but they're really looking for people with law enforcement or military backgrounds to join them in part - you know, it's thought because of the skills that those people have but also in part because of the cachet that comes with that. You know, if you can say that, oh, we have this, you know, Marine Corps veteran as a leader of our group, then that gives you a little bit more credibility in certain circles. At least that's the thinking.

KEITH: And yesterday in his confirmation hearing, the attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, said that continuing to investigate this would be a top priority. Is your sense, both of you, that this is not the end of the charges or the end of sort of the indictments of conspiracies?

DREISBACH: What Garland said in his hearing was that, you know, his first briefing is going to be on the insurrection investigation and that he's going to make sure that prosecutors have all of the resources that they need to get this done. No punches are going to be pulled on this. We are not done seeing charges brought in this investigation. There are new photos being put out by the FBI almost every day. There are more charges brought against new individuals almost every day. In the past 24 hours, we've seen a former New York Police Department officer charged for his involvement. But a big, outstanding question is, yes, how far did this conspiracy go? What sort of coordination, who all was involved, funding - this is all stuff that investigators are certainly looking at in the days and weeks to come.

KEITH: All right. Well, Tom, thank you for sharing your reporting with us.

DREISBACH: Oh, thanks so much, Tam. And thanks, Ryan.

KEITH: And we are going to leave the pod there for today, but we will be back in your feeds tomorrow. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

LUCAS: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.