WASHINGTON – Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the United States Capitol Police, told lawmakers Thursday her agency was reviewing threats from militia groups present during the Jan. 6 riot and warned they seek to “blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible,” possibly targeting President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress.
Pittman said the continued threats made it “prudent” for the Capitol Police to maintain their increased level of security at the Capitol.
“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desire that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union,” she said. In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to give his first formal address to Congress – similar to a State of the Union address. The date of the speech has not yet been scheduled.
Her remarks came during an at-times heated hearing before a key House panel overseeing funding for the Capitol Police. Lawmakers questioned Pittman and Timothy Blodgett, the acting House Sergeant at Arms, on security failures, intelligence breakdowns, and lapses in communication leading up to and during the Jan. 6 riot.
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Pittman acknowledged rioters overwhelmed police the day of the riot, saying “only a regiment of soldiers” and barriers could have stopped the Jan. 6 riot, not a police force. She told lawmakers there were at least 10,000 people outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, with at least 800 entering the building.
Lawmakers grew frustrated with the officials during the hearing as they struggled to respond to questions on how communications broke down and how they made decisions.
“It was a failure in leadership,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the chair of the panel. But he acknowledged the multiple rings of fencing outside the Capitol and the National Guard would have to stay until police could get enough rest and when the security situation could be improved.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, lambasted the officials for the structure of Capitol Police Board, the body overseeing the police. The board has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers for its perceived failure to adequately prepare for the riot.
“It doesn’t seem to do a hell of a lot,” she said, comparing it to an appendix, which “doesn’t have any real function. It’s just there.”
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Conflicting testimonies, communications breakdowns
The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said she hoped “we’re able to find ways to secure this place without such measures” like the fencing.
She pressed the officials on breakdowns in communications between officers on the day of the riot, raising concerns about lawmakers sheltering in the House chamber as the mob made its way inside the building.
“Are you guys in charge of security on the House floor, or are you just there to make sure we take our coats off when we’re on camera?” asked Herrera Beutler.
Pittman also addressed the controversy over a report received by the Capitol Police a day before the riot warning of militia groups “preparing for war” and targeting Congress. She told lawmakers the information was “raw” intelligence that would not have changed their preparations for Jan. 6. In response to questioning from Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Pittman said the information lined up with what they already knew and had seen on social media.
Although she was the head of intelligence for the Capitol Police at the time, she did not view the report, and it did not go higher than a lieutenant in the force, she said. Her account conflicted with former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund’s, who said it had only reached a sergeant. Current and former top law enforcement officials said at a hearing earlier in the week none of them had seen the intelligence prior to the riot.
Ryan told reporters the arrival of the intelligence should have led the Capitol Police to change their response.
“If it’s affirming your intelligence of violence, people being armed…it’s about Congress, not about the counter-protesters, and then you get that affirmed by the FBI, to me, that should have elevated the response, and it didn’t,” Ryan told reporters following the hearing.
Thirty-five Capitol Police officers are under investigation in relation to the riot, Pittman said, with six suspended without pay. Ryan told reporters following the hearing his committee had been briefed on the hearing and that the investigations were mostly related to social media posts, with maybe some “stepping over the line.”
Ryan also told reporters the issue of “reconnaissance tours” given by members of Congress to alleged rioters before the attack was now “in the hands of the U.S. attorney here in D.C.”
He said they were “reviewing the footage.”
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