Five Points On What The Senate’s Insurrection Report Hit And What It Missed

WASHINGTON D.C., USA - JANUARY 6: Police intervenes in US President Donald Trumps supporters who breached security and entered the Capitol building in Washington D.C., United States on January 06, 2021. Pro-Trump rio... WASHINGTON D.C., USA - JANUARY 6: Police intervenes in US President Donald Trumps supporters who breached security and entered the Capitol building in Washington D.C., United States on January 06, 2021. Pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol as lawmakers were set to sign off Wednesday on President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory in what was supposed to be a routine process headed to Inauguration Day. (Photo by Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 8, 2021 12:28 p.m.

The bipartisan Senate report on the intelligence and law enforcement failures that led to Jan. 6 leaves key questions about the Capitol insurrection unanswered, while highlighting the lack of preparation that preceded the attack.

In some ways, the report is a study in the consequences of compromise over all else. The word “insurrection” only appears in the report when interviewees are quoted saying it; CNN reported that the word was excluded from the report as a condition of bipartisan support.

And though the scope of the Senate Rules and Homeland Security Committees’ investigation, led by Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), limits it to an examination of the actions that law enforcement and intelligence agencies took before, during, and after the attack, the new details continue to highlight how little is still known about former president Trump’s activities during the insurrection.

The report reveals that Capitol police had intelligence about a potential armed invasion of the Capitol, and provides a granular accounting of the delays in the Pentagon’s decision to approve and deploy a unit of the D.C. National Guard to help quell the attack.

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Below are Five Points to understand the report:

The report avoids questions of politics.

Senate investigators focused on a disorganized and hollowed out federal intelligence sharing apparatus as well as a lack of willingness on the part of the Pentagon to commit troops for use against civilians after widespread criticism of the military’s heavy-handed tactics in responding to summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

The report notes that neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the FBI issued any bulletin or specific threat assessment in advance of Jan. 6.

Instead, the country’s intelligence community produced what the report portrays as piecemeal assessments of what might come. The Norfolk, Virginia FBI field office prepared a small report on local intelligence suggesting people were traveling to Washington, D.C. for “war,” while the report notes that none of DHS’s 15 intelligence products on violent extremism in 2020 mentioned anything about Jan. 6.

But the report falls short of addressing potential deeper causes for why this failure took place, beyond raising the legitimate challenge that FBI and DHS analysts face in sifting through threats online: it can be difficult in the face of sheer volume to discern what threats are real and what the report describes as “mere rhetoric.”

The question of whether Trump-era political interference in intelligence gathering was a factor in the breakdown remains unanswered in the report.

A former Trump DHS official told TPM in the days after the attack that a report on planning for Jan. 6 would have been “poorly received by the MAGA folks within DHS.”

But it goes into depth on what Capitol Police knew about plans to breach Congress.

The report does suggest that the Capitol Police’s own intelligence unit had some detailed information — gathered from pro-Trump online message boards — about what was coming.

That focused on “a plot to breach the Capitol” and “the online sharing of maps of the Capitol Complex’s tunnel system.”

The fact that posters on the pro-Trump website thedonald.win were sharing maps of tunnels in the Capitol did purportedly alarm the Capitol Police’s Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division, the force’s intelligence unit.

It was enough for the unit to prepare a seven-page report on Dec. 21 that included reporting on maps of Congress being posted online in advance of Jan. 6, noting that “several comments promote confronting members of Congress and carrying firearms during the protest.”

The report also purportedly referred to groups planning to attend — “Proud
Boys, Oath Keepers, and Stop the Steal” — as “Patriot Organizations.” The report also included a poster exhorting others to “surround every building with a tunnel entrance/exit. They better dig a tunnel all the way to China if they want to escape.”

In spite of that notice, only “command staff” received the report. Senate investigators suggest that it was not acted upon or spread more widely.

The report leaves open key questions about the D.C. National Guard response.

One of the enduring mysteries of the day has been why it took the D.C. National Guard hours to respond as the Capitol was sacked.

That largely focuses on a stretch of time between 3:00 p.m. — when an initial approval for the guard was given — and 5:02 p.m., when army documents confirm that the unit was deployed.

Senate investigators found that “no one could explain why DCNG did not deploy until after 5:00 p.m.”

The report identifies a litany of possible causes from interviews with Pentagon officials, including lack of a clear chain of command in who was to issue a request for the National Guard to deploy, miscommunications between senior army staffers, and hours spent on “mission planning.” Fears of repeating the overreach of the use of the D.C. National Guard in summer 2020 also weighed on planners minds, the report says.

Notably, the report does not cite testimony from then-acting defense secretary Chris Miller that he was reluctant to deploy troops due to fears that it would look like a coup attempt.

Nevertheless, the committees note, the result was the Guard “not arriving until after both chambers had already been secured.”

Investigators agreed not to use the word “insurrection” in the report.

The word “insurrection” only appears in the report when investigators are quoting someone, or when they’re referencing other documents about the event in footnotes.

Instead, the report describes what took place as an “attack” — strictly accurate, but stripped of all the context that made the attempt to block Biden’s win from being formalized so damaging.

In so doing, the report obscures the reality of what the attack was — an attempt to stop a legitimately elected government from taking power.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent cited a Democratic aide on one of the committees as saying that the report’s language was “carefully negotiated” in order to get the GOP sign-off.

The report makes no mention of the protestors’ targeting of Mike Pence, or that Trump specifically told the crowd to stop the electoral count.

The report stays away from Trump’s role — by design.

From the start, the investigation was limited to “security, planning, and response failures” on Jan. 6.

Instead, we’re left with the important but more mundane operational questions of intelligence collection, troop deployments, and police preparedness.

All of that is critical to understanding what took place on Jan. 6. But it misses the context of president Trump controlling the federal government while also moving to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and stoking the crowd that invaded the Capitol to do so.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted that fact in remarks on Tuesday.

“The report did not investigate, report on, or hardly make any reference to the actual cause, the actual impetus for the attack on January 6,” he told reporters.

The report does say that “further scrutiny of these failures and the preparations and response of federal agencies will continue,” but it remains unclear if there will be any official, governmental effort to probe the former president’s role in inciting the insurrection.

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