EXPLAINER: What were the warnings before the Capitol riot?

The acting head of the Capitol Police faced tough questioning about why the force was so quickly overrun by rioters on Jan. 6, even though there was plenty of intelligence warning that armed extremists were planning to target the Capitol over President Donald Trump’s election loss

Via AP news wire
Thursday 25 February 2021 23:06 GMT
Capitol Breach
Capitol Breach (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The acting head of the Capitol Police faced tough questioning Thursday about why the force was so quickly overrun by rioters on Jan. 6, even though there was plenty of intelligence warning that armed extremists were planning to target the Capitol over President Donald Trump s election loss.

In an appearance before a House subcommittee, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said none of the warnings forecast the mass attack that actually took place.

Both Democrats and Republicans took issue with that, saying the intelligence sounded both specific and credible.

“I cannot get past a glaring discrepancy between intelligence received and preparation,” Rep. Katherine Clark D-Massachusetts, said during Thursday's hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

Pittman became acting chief when her predecessor, Steven Sund, resigned in the wake of the insurrection. At the time of the attack, she was serving as assistant chief for protective and intelligence services.

Here’s some of what was learned from Pittman’s testimony.



Three days before the attack, the Capitol Police department's own security assessment warned that militia members, white supremacists, and other extremists were planning to come to Washington and target Congress in what they saw as a “last stand” to support Trump.

Pittman says the details of that assessment were shared throughout the department, with sergeants and lieutenants told to spread the word to rank-and-file officers.

It's not clear how effective that messaging was, however. Four officers interviewed by The Associated Press last month say they had little or no warning of what would happen and felt they were left unprepared for the attack.

Pittman also faced questions about an FBI memo, received the night before the attack, that warned extremists planned to wage “war” to prevent Joe Biden's election victory from being certified. She said that memo never reached her, but that it would not have changed the department's preparations anyway.


Pittman said the force took appropriate measures to protect the building and the lawmakers who were inside. She said they stationed armed officers at the homes of congressional leaders, intercepted radio frequencies used by the invaders, and deployed counterintelligence officers to the Ellipse rally where Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to “fight like hell.”

But the mob made it through the police line and smashed their way into the Capitol, fighting past officers who were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Many officers didn’t know if they could use force and lacked guidance on how to stop the rioters, leaving some to improvise.


Pittman argued that the intelligence from Jan. 3 was not specific or credible enough to predict the kind of insurrection that actually took place. The same goes for the FBI memo, she said. She said that even if department leaders had seen that warning, they wouldn't have changed their plans because it was considered “raw” intelligence and not something that the department could act on.

“No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat,” Pittman said. Questioned later in the hearing, Pittman acknowledged that police estimate around 10,000 people were demonstrating outside and around 800 people broke inside.

Lawmakers seized on her claim that the warnings didn't lay out the actual threat.

Clark, the congresswoman from Massachusetts, described the Jan. 3 assessment as a listing of “who, what, when, why.”


Pittman noted that she had taken “corrective measures” to better share intelligence in the future. But there are still several investigations going on into the law enforcement response.

Speaking after the hearing, Rep. Tim Ryan, the House subcommittee’s chairman, stopped short of saying Pittman should be fired. But he said there are “a lot of concerns” on the committee about her leadership and noted the lack of trust among the rank and file.

The Capitol Police union issued a vote of no confidence last week against Pittman.

“I think there’s some real questions about the decision making that was made, and I’m going to leave it at that,” he said.


Associated Press journalists Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

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