The assistant director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office defended the agency at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, saying the office warned local law enforcement that individuals “with intentions to cause violence” were traveling to D.C. before thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
In the weeks prior to the Jan. 6 siege, federal authorities worked internally with every field office in the nation “to ensure that we were looking for any intelligence that may have developed about potential violence,” Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono said.
During their search, the FBI “developed some intelligence a number of individuals were planning to travel to the D.C. area” to cause chaos—and alerted local authorities.
“We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet are just practicing keyboard bravado or they actually have the intent to do harm,” D’Antuno said.
“As offensive as a statement can be, the FBI cannot open an investigation without a threat of violence or alleged criminal activity. In this case, we had no information anything was linked to a specific person,” he added.
The intelligence his office received, D’Antuno said, included information that Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio was planning to disrupt Congress’ confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. On Jan. 4, Tarrio was arrested in D.C. for allegedly burning a “Black Lives Matter” banner hanging outside one of the oldest Black churches in the nation’s capital during a protest last month, he noted.
But the admission that the FBI had information of possible harm in Washington, D.C., prior to the insurrection poses new questions about what federal authorities knew and how big of a failure the response was. On Friday, D’Antuono told reporters that “there was no indication” of violence planned at the Capitol, and that the FBI believed the protest was nothing more than First Amendment-protected activities.
So far, five people have died in connection with the riots, including one Capitol Police officer who was struck with a fire extinguisher by rioters.
D’Antuono defended his office after new reporting from The Washington Post on Tuesday stated that the FBI Field Office in Virginia warned their D.C. counterparts of possible violence ahead of the riots.
“Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest,” the report from the Norfolk office said, quoting an online thread. “Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die.”
Shortly after D’Antuono’s Tuesday briefing, six Democratic chairs of security-relevant oversight committees in the House emerged from their own FBI briefing to suggest that the intelligence sharing was insufficient.
“We are also troubled by reports about warnings received by law enforcement authorities and the actions taken to share those warnings and respond to them prior to the attack. This is a moment when our entire national security and law enforcement apparatus must be working in complete lockstep,” said Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and Adam Smith (D-WA).
The Democrats sounded warnings that they have “grave concerns” about follow-up attacks. “It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead,” they said in a joint statement.
Despite the swirling questions about what transpired ahead of the riot, federal prosecutors insist that the push for justice is a top priority.
Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for D.C., said Tuesday that charges have been filed in 70 cases related to the riots, and investigators have opened up more than 170 subject files. He added that, at the end of the investigation, he expects to file charges in hundreds of criminal cases.
“The scope and scale of this investigation are really unprecedented,” he said.
That much appeased the six Democratic chairs. “We demand full accountability not only to hold those perpetrators responsible but to send a strong signal that future seditious activity will not be tolerated and will be met with the full force of the law,” they said in their statement.
Sherwin added that his office is pursuing a “mind-blowing” spectrum of potential charges against the Capitol rioters, from trespassing to theft of potential national defense information to felony murder.
The top prosecutor added that his office is also looking into “significant felony cases, including sedition and conspiracy” charges.
He added that in addition to the rioters, federal prosecutors are working to investigate the two pipe bombs that were placed at the RNC and DNC—but later disabled by the ATF and Capitol Police. They’re eyeing the theory that the bombs were planted to distract police from the assault on the Capitol, Sherwin said.
“Regardless of whether it was just a trespass in the Capitol, or someone planted a pipe bomb, you will be charged and you will be found,” he added.