Why didn't Capitol Police mobilize on Jan. 6? They claim intel warning wasn't "specific" enough

I've seen portions of the secret Capitol Police inspector general's report — it doesn't answer the big questions

Published April 13, 2021 12:33PM (EDT)

Pro-Trump protestors clash with police during the tally of electoral votes that would certify Joe Biden as the winner of the U.S. presidential election outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Pro-Trump protestors clash with police during the tally of electoral votes that would certify Joe Biden as the winner of the U.S. presidential election outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This article was co-produced with Press Watch, an independent site that monitors and critiques American political coverage. Please consider supporting Press Watch by making a donation.

Asked by the Capitol Police inspector general why they failed to heed their own intelligence unit's dramatic and dire warning on Jan. 3 that violent protesters would be targeting the Capitol three days later, top department officials said the report wasn't specific enough.

That Jan. 3 intelligence report literally alerted officials that "white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence" had been summoned by Donald Trump himself and could create "significantly dangerous situations for law enforcement and the general public alike" because "unlike previous post-election protests … Congress itself is the target on the 6th." It said that organizers were urging Trump supporters to come with guns, gas masks and body armor.

The inspector general conducted interviews with Capitol Police officials and found what he called "a lack of consensus" among them about whether that intelligence report and others "actually indicated specific known threats." 

Those officials instead pointed the inspector general to a daily update from a single analyst who apparently operated without supervision, who labeled the likelihood of civil disobedience or violence that day by a "PRO-TRUMP group" (capitalized in the original) as "improbable." 

This new but hardly convincing explanation comes from a secret official review of the events of Jan. 6 by Capitol Police inspector general Michael A. Bolton. CBS News reporters Michael Kaplan and Cassidy McDonald broke the news about the review's conclusion two weeks ago after obtaining a copy.

Bolton found that the Capitol Police "did not prepare a comprehensive, Department-wide plan for demonstrations planned for January 6, 2021." Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chair of the House Administration Committee, called the review's findings "disturbing," and has called Bolton to testify on Thursday.

To some extent, the review bolsters what we might call the "Keystone Kops defense" — that Capitol Police leadership was simply too incompetent, uninformed and unprepared for the assault of Jan. 6. 

But the threat was so obvious, so overt and so well-publicized that incompetence alone cannot explain the failure to mobilize, especially in contrast to how enthusiastically the department deployed for Black Lives Matters protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol.

On Jan. 6, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has since resigned, didn't even equip his frontline officers with tear gas or other non-lethal crowd-control weapons, nor with riot gear. Instead of establishing a defensible perimeter, he sent them out in street uniforms to man barricades made of bike racks. One officer died, dozens more suffered serious injuries and the Capitol fell to a mob.

I have repeatedly written, since the first days after the insurrection, that the biggest mystery behind this entire disturbing event was why the Capitol Police let it happen. I've called on reporters to investigate the obvious possibility that Capitol Police leadership felt some degree of kinship with the Trump mob, and either were too racist to see the threat posed by Trump supporters or looked the other way on purpose.

Since then, mainstream media coverage has continued to be bizarrely lacking. Reporters have credulously accepted the framing of "intelligence failure" — despite that in-your-face Jan. 3 report, which pretty much laid out exactly what would happen. They have inanely focused on the non-distribution of one single Jan. 5 FBI situational report based on one single thread on one message board, rather than on the leadership shrugging off that far clearer and more direct Jan. 3 report. 

Mainstream reporters have also barely mentioned the elephant in the room: Racism. As Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said that very night on MSNBC: "Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn't have made it up those steps … we would have been shot, we would have been tear-gassed."

The Capitol Police inspector general's report remains secret, despite requests from members of Congress to release it. The part of the inspector general's review that I obtained — on condition that I not replicate it — focused on the failed threat analysis. 

But to be honest, it's not particularly edifying or compelling. Its big recommendations in this area are for more training and coordination. It doesn't quote anything further from that terrifyingly prescient Jan. 3 memo — which was titled "IICD Special event Assessment 21-A-0468 v.3 Joint Session of Congress — Electoral College Vote Certification" — than the Washington Post did on Jan. 15. That memo should be made public.

It doesn't explain why the daily report written by a "single analyst" who has compiled it "for a number of years ... without supervisory review" conflicted so dramatically with the "finished intelligence report" from his own department.

It does note that the finding of "no specific known threats" made it into a Capitol Police "operational plan" for Jan. 6, although officials told the inspector general that language was apparently erroneously copied and pasted from a copy of a previous document. That's right: They're saying that was a clerical error.

But the part of the report I saw doesn't get into why officials weren't more alarmed. It doesn't address the possibility of racism. I see no sign that, to this day, anyone — not the inspector general, not members of Congress tasked with oversight and certainly not journalists — has gotten hold of contemporaneous correspondence between the key players, or other evidence that would offer insight into their states of mind. 

So we still don't know why they let it happen. Will we ever?

By Dan Froomkin

Dan Froomkin is Editor of Press Watch. He wrote the daily White House Watch column for the Washington Post during the George W. Bush administration, then served as Washington bureau chief and senior writer at Huffington Post, covering Barack Obama's presidency, before working as Washington editor at The Intercept.

MORE FROM Dan Froomkin

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Capitol Police Capitol Riot Commentary Inspector General Media Press Watch