The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police is testifying before Congress on Thursday as lawmakers press for answers about intelligence and procedural failures that allowed thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump to storm the Capitol last month.
Yogananda Pittman and the acting House sergeant-at-arms, Timothy Blodgett, faced questions from members of a House subcommittee investigating the riot on Jan. 6, when rioters invaded the Capitol aiming to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.
Pittman planned to tell lawmakers that Capitol Police knew there was a possibility that armed extremist poised for violence could be heading to the Capitol that day, but the invasion was worse than expected and law enforcement was unprepared.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said he wants to know what are the most important “institutional and cultural reforms” that Congress can make to keep the Capitol campus as accessible to the public as possible.
The panel’s top Republican, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, said the top Capitol Police officials “either failed to take seriously the intelligence received or the intelligence failed to reach the right people.”
Pittman’s predecessor as chief testified earlier this week at a hearing that police expected an enraged but more typical protest crowd of Trump backers. But Pittman said intelligence collected before the riot prompted police to take extraordinary measures, including the special arming of officers, intercepting radio frequencies used by the invaders and deploying spies at the Ellipse rally where Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to “fight like hell.”
Pittman’s testimony, submitted before Thursday’s hearing, provides the most detailed account yet of the days before the riot.
On Jan. 3, Capitol Police distributed an internal intelligence assessment warning that militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups were likely to participate, that demonstrators would be armed and that it was possible they would come to the Capitol to try to disrupt the vote, according to her testimony.
“Based on the assessment, the Department understood that this demonstration would be unlike the previous demonstrations held by protesters with similar ideologies in November and December 2020,” Pittman said in her prepared remarks.
But at the same time, she said police didn’t have enough intelligence to predict the violent insurrection that resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol Police officer. They prepared for trouble but not an invasion.
“Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes,” Pittman said.
Steven Sund, the police force’s former chief who resigned after the riot, testified Tuesday that the intelligence assessment warned white supremacists, members of the far-right Proud Boys and leftist antifa were expected to be in the crowd and might become violent.
“We had planned for the possibility of violence, the possibility of some people being armed, not the possibility of a co-ordinated military style attack involving thousands against the Capitol,” Sund said.
The FBI also forwarded a warning to local law enforcement officials about online postings that a “war” was coming. But Pittman said it still wasn’t enough to prepare for the mob that attacked the Capitol.
Officers were vastly outnumbered as thousands of rioters descended on the building, some of them wielding planks of wood, stun guns, bear spray and metal pipes as they broke through windows and doors and stormed through the Capitol. Officers were hit with barricades, shoved to the ground, trapped between doors, beaten and bloodied as members of Congress were evacuated and congressional staffers cowered in offices.
Pittman also said the department faced “internal challenges” as it responded to the riot. Officers didn’t properly lock down the Capitol complex, even after an order had been given over the radio to do so. She also said officers didn’t understand when they were allowed to use deadly force, and that less-than-lethal weapons that officers had were not as successful as they expected.
While Pittman said in her testimony that that sergeants and lieutenants were supposed to pass on intelligence to the department’s rank and file, many officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they would face.
Four officers told The Associated Press shortly after the riot that they heard nothing from Sund, Pittman, or other top commanders as the building was breached. Officers were left in many cases to improvise or try to save colleagues facing peril.
Pittman also faces internal pressure from her rank and file, particularly after the Capitol Police union recently issued a vote of no confidence against her. She must also lead the department through the start of several investigations into how law enforcement failed to protect the building.
Capitol Police are investigating the actions of 35 police officers on the day of the riot; six of those officers have been suspended with pay, a police spokesman said.