FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump besiege the U.S. Capitol in Washington. A 19th person from Ohio has been arrested in Alabama for allegedly convening a caravan of people from Virginia to Washington on Jan. 6 and assaulting police officers during the deadly Capitol riots. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)




FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. (REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo)

  Senate report details broad failures around Jan. 6 attack

By Aaron Blake

WASHINGTON DC - The first report, though, reinforces the limits of what Congress can produce without an agreement on a specialized and powerful commission. It is narrowly tailored toward bureaucratic problems with the response, but even inside of that limited scope, it strains to avoid much of anything amounting to a politically contentious finding. The report also notes that its authors struggled to gain full compliance from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as from key officials in the House and U.S. Capitol Police.

Below are some of the key things the report omitted or failed to resolve.

1. Trump’s role

Again, the report is focused on bureaucratic problems with the preparations for Jan. 6 — including how evidence of potential violence was disregarded and wasn’t shared — as well as the slow response once the violence began. It doesn’t pretend to be a report that examines Trump’s or his allies’ roles in fomenting the riot.

But even accounting for that, there is a distinct lack of information when it comes to Trump’s and the White House’s role.

The report makes factual statements about Trump’s claims of a stolen election (noting courts had disagreed but otherwise not labeling the claims false), his promotion of the protests that day and his speech to the crowd shortly before the riot began. It includes the full text of the speech in the footnotes.

But it tells us next to nothing about any involvement Trump or the White House might have had in quelling the violence, either in the preparations for that day or once the riot began.

About the only substantial passage about Trump’s actions regards a very brief conversation he had with then-acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley on Jan. 3:

Later that afternoon, Mr. Miller and General Milley met with President Trump, who concurred in the activation of [D.C. National Guard] to support law enforcement. According to Mr. Miller, the meeting with the President was scheduled to discuss a separate issue, unrelated to the January 6 Joint Session of Congress. At the end of the meeting, President Trump brought up the [Jan. 6] Joint Session [of Congress to consider the electoral college], asking Mr. Miller whether they were prepared. Mr. Miller told the Committees that the conversation with President Trump about January 6 was “a 15-second, 30-second conversation. It was an in passing, kind of what else is going on type thing.”

Even if you accept that the report is geared toward the bureaucratic actions regarding Jan. 6 rather than whether Trump motivated or incited it, there is surely more to be mined when it comes to not just Trump’s actions, but also the White House’s.

2. The Justice Department’s undetermined role

To the point above, an arguably bigger hole in the report is what the Justice Department was doing at the time. An apparently large reason: It didn’t cooperate.

Multiple Defense Department officials stated that the Justice Department was designated as the lead federal agency when it comes to security preparations. Internal accounts of what the DOJ actually did, though, are extremely sparse in the report. And the report repeatedly references the Justice Department’s lack of full compliance with the investigation.

According to DOD, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) was designated as the lead federal agency in charge of security preparations and response on January 6, but DOJ did not conduct interagency rehearsals or establish an integrated security plan. DOD officials understood DOJ was designated before January 6. According to Ryan McCarthy, DOJ never established a point of contact and did not effectively coordinate a response during the attack. As noted above, DOJ has not fully complied with the Committees’ requests for information.

On May 12, 2021, Jeffrey Rosen, the Acting Attorney General on January 6, testified at a House Oversight hearing that it was “not accurate” that DOJ was the lead federal agency for security preparations on January 6. He stated that DOJ’s responsibilities were specific to intelligence coordinating and information sharing. DOJ has not acknowledged that it was designated the lead federal agency for January 6 and has yet to fully comply with the Committees’ requests for information.

That’s perhaps the biggest unknown when it comes to the bureaucracy: whether the DOJ was actually in charge of this. That a report could be released that doesn’t answer that question sure seems to point to the limits of the current reviews.

3. The motivations of the rioters

As plenty have noted, there is a rather curious omission from the report: the use of the word “insurrection.” It appears 11 times, but only in direct quotes and in footnotes referencing contemporary reports that used that word.

CNN reports that this was done to gain the requisite support from both parties — in other words, that calling it an “insurrection,” despite all the evidence, was apparently too much to gain full GOP support. That’s certainly a commentary on the state of the GOP today.

But that’s not the only way in which the report strains hard to avoid anything that might be disputed by even a limited number of Republicans. Beyond its virtual silence on Trump’s and the White House’s actions, it also conspicuously avoids detailing the motivations of those who stormed the Capitol. It doesn’t describe them as Trump supporters, despite the evidence being clear that they were. It doesn’t delve into whether their intention was to hijack the government and overturn the election. In both cases, fringe elements of the conservative movement have argued that the conventional wisdom is wrong, but those sentiments are very much relegated to the fringe.

Again, the report seeks to narrowly focus on the bureaucracy, but when it comes to how this all came about, it’s entirely pertinent to ask what motivated those who took such drastic action and what their goal was. Understanding that is surely relevant when it comes to avoiding a potential repeat.

4. The ‘optics’ question

Even if you accept the narrow scope of the probe and that some of the above might not necessarily be what it sought to address, the report still fails to answer some vital questions even within the narrowest of scopes.

One big discrepancy remains exactly why officials balked at deploying or preparing the National Guard for possible deployment on Jan. 6. One potential motivation raised by the report is that officials were wary of deploying troops given what had happened during racial-justice protests last year.

The report notes the criticism of “flying military helicopters over the protests in summer 2020,” though it conspicuously avoids a direct mention of the Trump administration’s highly controversial use of force to clear Lafayette Square outside the White House in advance of a Trump photo op. (Again, this would seem to point to the report straining to avoid virtually anything politically contentious.)

But beyond that, there’s the question of how directly those concerns were expressed.

Then-D.C. Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said shortly after the Capitol riot that a top Army official, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, had raised the possibility that deploying the National Guard to the Capitol would be bad optics. But both the Army and Piatt initially disputed this, before Piatt softened his denial.

“What we’re getting from some of the note-takers in the room is that I may have said that,” Piatt said. “I don’t recall saying ‘the optics.’ I recall saying that my best military advice is that we formulate a plan.”

The report, though, shows it’s not just Sund who says Piatt invoked the optics:

According to the testimony of Mr. Sund, Acting [D.C. Metropolitan Police] Chief Contee, and [D.C. National Guard] Commanding General Walker, officials from the Department of the Army at DOD headquarters — particularly Lieutenant Generals Walter Piatt and Charles Flynn — responded that it was not their best military advice to support the request because they did not “like the optics of the National Guard standing a line at the Capitol.”

The report notes that [then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D.] Irving disputed Sund’s claim: “Mr. Irving further testified that the decision was not based on the optics of National Guard troops at the Capitol, contrary to Mr. Sund’s testimony.”

At another point, the report says:

The Army has denied its officials mentioned optics. According to Army records, after Mr. Sund requested immediate assistance, General Piatt “calmly stated that the Army needed help understanding the situation and needed to clarify what specific task(s) the USCP wanted DCNG to perform.”

The report at times like this basically devolves into he-said-she-said territory, leading to obvious questions about who is actually telling the truth — and what could compel them to do so.

5. The timeline discrepancies

Speaking of unresolved discrepancies, here’s another big one.

I wrote back in March about two of the central discrepancies in the timelines put forward by various officials who had testified: 1) When the Guard was requested, and 2) When it was approved and sent in.

Sund said in his testimony last week that he initially requested the National Guard in a phone call with Irving at 1:09 p.m., and that he called to check on it shortly thereafter. Irving, though, said he didn’t receive such a request from Sund until after 2 p.m.

While that discrepancy has gotten the attention, though, neither claim lined up with testimony of acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman later in the week. ...

Pittman said she checked phone records and found the first request actually came earlier than Sund testified.

Pittman testified that Sund first asked Irving for National Guard support at 12:58 p.m. and that he made the same request of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger shortly afterward, at 1:05 p.m. The report notes that Sund corrected his testimony to line up with Pittman’s timeline. But despite obtaining call records and text messages, the timeline of when the requests came is still disputed, with no hard finding in the report.

The other discrepancy regarded when the Guard was approved to go in. Again, from my piece in March:

The commanding officer of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, testified that the approval for Sund’s request for the Guard wasn’t received from the Defense Department until 5:08 p.m. — hours after Sund initially made it.

But the representative for the Defense Department, Robert Salesses, initially testified that the Guard was told it could move forward at 4:32 p.m., before seeming to walk that back a bit.

Again, the report doesn’t settle this issue. It cites then-Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff James C. McConville backing up Salesses’s tentative testimony that the order came before 5:08 p.m., but it’s hardly conclusive.

The report even acknowledges its lack of ability to settle the issue.

“These discrepancies reflect the breakdown in communication between DOD and [D.C. National Guard] officials, who were all located in different parts of the District,” the report says. “When asked about the discrepancy between DCNG’s timeline and the Army’s timeline, Mr. Miller pointed to the ‘fog and friction of chaotic situations.’ General McConville also referenced ‘fog and friction’ ...”

What’s notable in both of these instances? The senator pressing on these discrepancies during the public hearings, in both cases, was Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). As the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, he was one of the members responsible for this report. He also happens to be a leading proponent of the idea that it’s too early to impanel a Jan. 6 commission and that Congress can deal with these issues via its regular processes.

This product, at the very least, suggests the limits of that approach.

“How is that possible?” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of one of the discrepancies. As I noted at the time, “It’s a good question — and one that reinforces how inexplicable and irreconcilable some of the conflicting versions of Jan. 6 remain, nearly two months later.”

Make that five months later.


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