WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives special committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol is increasingly focusing on law enforcement failures that preceded the insurrection, specifically investigating several warnings of possible violence that the FBI went unheeded, according to those with people who are familiar with its work and who have been contacted by the committee.
Donell Harvin, the former chief of intelligence for the District of Columbia Department of Homeland Security, said he had met twice in the past two weeks with committee investigators who he believed were anxious to understand how information was in between in the weeks leading up to the attack exchanged with the authorities.
Harvin – whose team was responsible for assessing threats to DC – said he told committee investigators that he did not find out about the warnings the FBI received before Jan. 6 until months after the siege of the Capitol. “I told them I think there needs to be a big discussion about how we look at domestic intelligence because it is fragmented right now,” he said.
Harvin is among half a dozen people familiar with pre-attack law enforcement who have been contacted by the committee in the past few weeks.
The interviews indicate that in addition to efforts to assess the role of President Donald Trump and his allies in inciting the mob, the panel is pursuing a significant review of intelligence and national security failures similar to the 9/11 commission after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The committee is investigating the failure of various government agencies to recognize, disseminate and enhance critical early warnings from extremists discussing violence in the run-up to 6 January, according to two people familiar with the work of the body who spoke on condition of anonymity to the investigation describe.
A spokesman for the select committee did not want to comment. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Is chairing the panel and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Is serving as vice-chair. The FBI did not comment.
The committee’s investigation into some of the specific warning signs that preceded the Capitol attack follows a series of investigations by the Washington Post into the causes, costs and consequences of January 6th, published late last month. The series revealed that the FBI and other federal agencies did not respond urgently to a cascade of warnings that Trump supporters were plotting mayhem in Washington that day.
Internal FBI documents received by The Post indicated that the office had received indications that people online were making plans to travel to DC and overrun the police, and that some threatened lawmakers with public trials and violence.
The documents show that in December an official from the Bureau attempted to classify a series of warnings as an issue of domestic terrorism. But the threat assessment was closed within 48 hours and passed on to DC Police and Capitol Police with a note “Not currently warranting any further investigation.”
FBI officials told the Post that much of the alarming online chatter was “aspirations” to protect freedom of expression, and defended the bureau’s work as being proactive and aggressive.
The House of Representatives Special Committee urged the FBI, additional documents related to the handling of the Office of the 6th were not publicly authorized to do so.
It is not uncommon for tensions to develop between congressional committees and national security agencies over document requests, and officials said both sides are discussing ways forward.
Since then, the committee has contacted numerous officials familiar with the work of the FBI and other federal agencies, including Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Christopher Rodriguez, chief of Homeland Security for the District of Columbia. These two are expected to meet with committee staff soon, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mike Sena, the president of an association of the country’s regional homeland security offices known as fusion centers, said he had also contacted the committee.
The Post series detailed how DC and Fusion Center officials wanted to warn federal agencies of alarming January 6-related information. The Committee seeks to review how each agency identified as receiving such information has processed and handled these alerts.
One focus of the panel is the FBI’s reluctance to officially investigate open Trump supporters after many online discussions of the January 6 violence were classified as a speech protected by the First Amendment.
Some documents the committee is looking for relate to the bureau’s handling of warnings about what members of far-right groups were up to, including coming to DC armed, shooting police officers and attacking lawmakers for arrest, one person said.
Other documents the committee is looking for relate to how the FBI reviewed these and other warnings from a variety of sources and then decided not to investigate them further, said the person familiar with the committee’s work.
The committee is negotiating with the FBI to obtain information from these records in some form, most likely with editors, to address concerns that disclosure of the records could expose or compromise sensitive investigative sources and methods.
Another area of concern is the handling of information flowing into the FBI from the nationwide network of fusion centers, an infrastructure created after September 11 with grants from the Department of Homeland Security. The centers are tasked with evaluating open source information and providing tips to interrupt the planning of attacks before they take place.
Harvin’s Fusion Center team was so concerned about social media posts suggesting extremists in DC were coordinating that he and other colleagues from nearly all of the 80 fusion centers in a rare, nationwide conference call on Jan. 4 called for hospitals in the DC Region to prepare for a mass casualty event.
The FBI had assigned a liaison officer to Harvin’s office, but it’s not clear what the office did with the information that came from that network.
In the week leading up to January 6, the FBI’s ability to self-analyze online chatter was hampered when agents lost access to Dataminr, a surveillance system used to keep an eye on the frequency of certain keywords and phrases on the Internet The Post series reports. In a previously planned transition, the office moved to a new surveillance service in early 2021, but many agents were not yet trained in their use.
Those familiar with the work of the committee said lawmakers could potentially include a section of their later report on how to improve the process for sharing information and assessing threat intelligence, with an emphasis on the FBI.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., A member of the committee, said assessing the state of affairs of the intelligence community prior to the attack was an important part of his mission.
“It is our job to write a series of recommendations, as the 9/11 Commission did,” Schiff said, noting that these efforts led to the restructuring of the country’s intelligence services. “I don’t know if we should expect something as dramatic and profound, but we will make our recommendations based on the evidence we find.”
The committee also examined how Trump’s efforts to undermine election results put pressure on officials across the country.
Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican who faced political backlash and threats after his vote to confirm President Biden’s victory in his county, said he was about to be met by two committee members in his Phoenix office on Nov. 17 Interviewed for 45 minutes.
Hickman, who also appeared on The Post, said committee staff were interested in two phone calls he received from the White House in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol. He didn’t answer either of the calls, but said he believed Trump would have pressured him to find a way to undo Biden’s victory if he had answered.
Committee staff also asked him about threats he had received since the election, including his experience on Jan. 6 when the local sheriff’s deputies evacuated him and his family from his home in suburban Phoenix for fear that they would DC violence could spread to his community. Hickmann said.
Contributors to this report are Jacqueline Alemany, Devlin Barrett, and Rosalind S. Helderman of the Washington Post.