Senate Committee Pushes DOJ, FBI for Answers on US Capitol Breach

February 2, 2021 Updated: February 3, 2021

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday demanded answers from the Justice Department and the FBI over their preparation and response to the U.S. Capitol breach last month.

The committee’s incoming chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the head of both agencies requesting answers to a series of questions.

The panel has asked for additional information about what the agencies knew prior to the incident, the actions they took to address concerns, whether threat assessments were conducted about the risk of violence for Jan. 6, the agencies’ role in responding to the incident, and the agencies’ prosecutorial response following the event.

“The security failures that enabled the January 6 attack span multiple agencies, and emerging reports raise serious concerns about the adequacy of preparations by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” the senators wrote (pdf).

Steven D’Antuono, head of the FBI Washington field office, told reporters in January that the agency had “received a lot of intelligence” leading up to the Jan. 6 protest and had shared the information with law enforcement partners through its shared systems.

“We immediately shared that information and action was taken as demonstrated by the arrest of Enrique Tarrio by the Metropolitan Police Department the night before the rally,” D’Antuono said, referring to the arrest of the head of the Proud Boys.

“Other individuals were identified in other parts of the country and their travel subsequently disrupted.”

D’Antuono said although the bureau receives such information, it has to determine the credibility and viability of the content.

“We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet, just practicing keyboard bravado, or they actually have the intent to do harm in the ladder,” he said.

Both agencies and their law enforcement partners said they have been working tirelessly to crackdown on protesters who participated in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach, which left five people dead—one who was shot by a Capitol police officer inside the building, three others due to medical conditions on U.S. Capitol grounds, and a Capitol Police officer was confirmed dead on Jan. 7 due to injuries sustained while on duty responding to riots.

More than 400 cases have been opened related to the incident and over 150 people have been charged federally, the DOJ said late January.

Prosecutors have also filed conspiracy cases against some individuals, indicating that the storming of the Capitol building was allegedly planned by some protesters. The DOJ said prosecutors have also been directed to build sedition cases.

Footage from Jan. 6 shows that a small group of individuals were mainly responsible for acts of violence and property destruction, while a larger group of protesters could be seen protesting in a more non-violent way. Some of the protesters who were arrested were arrested on charges relating to unlawful entry in a restricted area, such as Couy Griffin, the founder of the organization Cowboys for Trump.

According to an affidavit by a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department detective, Griffin said he was “caught up” in that crowd, which pushed its way through the barricades and into a restricted area.

Griffin said that he and his friend didn’t enter the U.S. Capitol building at any time and remained on the steps outside the building during the breach. During that time, he led a group of protesters in prayer using a bullhorn “outside the Capitol, but up where the president is inaugurated at.”

Videos of the incident and other open-source materials corroborated Griffin’s statements, according to the affidavit.

Matt Braynard, former director of Data and Strategy for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, told The Epoch Times that he believes charges against the non-violent protesters on Jan. 6 should be dropped.

“Anybody that engaged in any violence on January 6, who may have assaulted a police officer or committed serious property damage or vandalism should face serious charges,” Braynard said.

“However, the vast majority of those people have not been charged with such crimes. They’ve been charged with simply walking through an open door to a public building, with no knowledge or no reason to expect that it would be illegal or forbidden.”

Braynard has written to the DOJ and FBI about his concerns of charging non-violent protesters, arguing that many of the protesters who entered the Capitol “reasonably believed they had permission” to enter.

He said that police officers “opened the protective fencing around the Capitol and stood aside as crowds entered the building.”

Footage that was circulating online reviewed by The Epoch Times shows several police officers allowing a crowd of protesters to breach a fence with minimal resistance, while other videos show police did not make a significant effort to prevent the protesters from entering the building.

Other videos did show police officers telling protesters that they were not allowed to be there and asking protesters to leave the premises.

“While some of these men and women should have known better, the majority of them were political neophytes who simply viewed this as an extension of the peaceful protest. They had no intention to destroy property or harm anyone. They may have been naive, but were not acting maliciously,” Braynard wrote in his letter (pdf).

The FBI confirmed receipt of the Senate panel’s letter but did not provide further comments. The DOJ did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

With reporting by Jennifer Li.

This article has been updated to provide additional clarity on deaths at the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.

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