Acting US Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman warned Thursday that militia groups involved in the January 6 insurrection want to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many members as possible” when President Joe Biden addresses Congress.
Pressed by House lawmakers to provide a timeline for removing the razorwire fencing and other enhanced security measures installed after the US Capitol attack, Pittman said law enforcement remains concerned about threats by known militia groups “with a direct nexus to the State of the Union” address.
“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires 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, which we know that date has not been identified,” she told House lawmakers during Thursday’s hearing on security failures related to January 6.
“We know that the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol weren’t only interested in attacking members of Congress and officers,” she added. “They wanted to send a symbolic message to the nation as to who is in charge of that legislative process.”
Pittman’s comments mark one of the first times law enforcement officials have publicly cited specific threats against the Capitol and lawmakers related to Biden’s expected address before a joint session of Congress.
While presidents typically do not deliver an official State of the Union address in the opening months of their first term, Biden’s administration is considering an address to a joint session of Congress later this year, though a specific date hasn’t been identified.
How long will fencing remain around Capitol?
Pittman declined to elaborate on a timetable for removing the fencing and sending National Guard troops that remain in Washington back to their home states despite bipartisan calls to reduce the security posture around the US Capitol.
“We have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed. We’re actively working with a scaled down approach so that we can make sure that we address three primary variables,” Pittman said Thursday.
“One is the known threat to the environment, two is the infrastructure vulnerabilities and then that third variable being the limitations the US Capitol’s police knows that it has as it relates to human capital and technology resources,” she added.
Later in the hearing, Pittman said the fencing around the Capitol is not permanent — an idea she has previously proposed.
“The temporary infrastructure is only to address the vulnerabilities after the attack of January 6. Our priority is to make sure that the members of Congress are safe, and that democratic process is protected. Once we have appropriate infrastructure and human assets in place we will lean forward with the removal of the fencing,” she said.
CNN has previously reported that US Capitol Police told lawmakers that the razor wire fencing around the Capitol should remain in place until at least September due to lingering security concerns related to threats against members of Congress.
Lawmakers have repeatedly pressed law enforcement and defense officials to explain whether there is a credible threat that justifies keeping those security precautions in place.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN earlier this month that officials are not currently tracking any “credible or specific threats,” but continue to constantly monitor online chatter about potential violence in Washington, DC, and against members of Congress.
“The most significant terrorism-related threat currently facing the nation comes from lone offenders and small groups of individuals inspired by domestic extremist ideological beliefs, including those based on false narratives spread over social media and other online platforms,” the spokesperson added.
Lawmakers air frustrations over leadership failures during insurrection
House lawmakers angrily grilled acting chief Pittman and acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett on Thursday over the security failures that occurred on January 6, repeatedly pressing both officials on the lack of communication by law enforcement leaders as their officers were overwhelmed by the pro-Trump mob that day.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington state, said she was with police officers during the attack and saw the communication failures happening in real-time.
“It was very clear that their head pieces, the communication pieces, they were getting no actual real communication, they were getting no leadership, they were getting no direction, there was no coordination and you could see the fear in their eyes,” Beutler said.
“When I talk about communications failures, I’m literally talking about the leadership. No one owning the frequency and giving direction and that’s the thing I want to know, I want to know if you’re fixing that?” she added.
Pittman responded by telling lawmakers that the department didn’t follow protocols during the insurrection for how to deal with an emergency situation, largely because officers were overwhelmed.
“On January 6th, our incident command protocols were not adhered to as they should have,” Pittman, who took over after the January 6 attack, told a House appropriations subcommittee.
She made the comment in response to questions about communication breakdowns that hampered the response while pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. She said the failures stemmed from the fact that police lines were so overrun that commanders who oversee the emergency response were instead physically fending off rioters.
“When there’s a breakdown you look for those commanders with boots on the ground to provide that instruction,” Pittman said. “That did not happen, primarily because those operational commanders at the time were so overwhelmed, they started to participate and assist the officers … versus providing that guidance and direction.”
Beutler pushed back on that explanation, saying it is the role of law enforcement leadership to provide clear instructions to officers on the ground.
“I’m hearing a lot of process and a lot of almost blaming why there is a problem versus hearing how you’re going to make sure that there is a command center that speaks into the ear pieces of the officers and provides directions and leadership. That part of the problem there was chaos was because each and every one of these officers’ boots on the ground, commander or not, had to make a decision with no information,” she said.
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro directed her frustrations Thursday toward the board that oversees the US Capitol Police, saying it is “obsolete” and isn’t keeping members safe, blaming the board’s bureaucracy for the slow response during the January 6 insurrection.
The three-member board is comprised of the chief of the Capitol Police, the House sergeant-at-arms and the Senate sergeant-at-arms. Their lack of coordination during the attack has been a major focus of congressional oversight hearings this week, and members of the board have contradicted each other about the timeline that day.
“At the moment I view it as a vestigial, it’s just there,” said DeLauro, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It doesn’t appear to do a hell of a lot, nor did it do with a hell of a lot to deal with this situation on January 6. It’s like your appendix. It’s just there, but doesn’t have a real function.”
Her comments came two days after a Senate hearing where the three officials who were on the Capitol Police Board during the attack said that the bureaucracy creates a situation where no single person has ultimate responsibility to secure the complex. These three officials all resigned their positions after the insurrection.