Federal watchdogs open probe of response to Capitol riot

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The Dome of the Capitol Building is visible through razor wire installed on top of fencing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal watchdogs launched a sweeping review of how the FBI, the Pentagon and other law enforcement agencies responded to the riot at the U.S. Capitol, including whether there were failures in information sharing and other preparations that left the historic symbol of democracy vulnerable to assault by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The inquiries, undertaken by the inspectors general for the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Interior and Defense, could result in searing criticism of the government’s handling of a deadly breach at the Capitol in which armed loyalists of Trump overran the police and came in close contact with elected officials. The reviews will encompass everything from whether the FBI adequately shared information with other law enforcement agencies about the potential for violence to how the Pentagon mobilized for the Jan. 6 crisis.

The initiation of the coordinated inquiries comes as failings in the government’s preparation and response are coming into sharper focus more than a week after the riot.

The Capitol Police, for instance, has said it had planned for free speech activity at the Capitol but not for the sort of violence that erupted as lawmakers assembled to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. The lack of preparation is notable since Trump himself had encouraged his supporters to come to Washington and had called on them to “fight like hell” at a rally shortly before the riot.

The Pentagon has said the Capitol Police turned down an offer for help days before the riot. Once it became clear on the day of the event that more substantial aid would be needed, it was a logistically complicated struggle to bring in a larger force to back up the embattled police. Now, the Defense Department inspector general will review the Pentagon’s “roles, responsibilities, and actions” in preparing for and responding to the riot.

At the Justice Department, the inspector general investigation will examine whether information was adequately shared with other agencies, including the Capitol Police, about the potential for violence.

The inspector general said it “also will assess whether there are any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures that adversely affected the ability of DOJ or its components to prepare effectively for and respond to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.”

The review will almost certainly include an assessment of intelligence that the Justice Department — and particularly the FBI — had collected before and after the riot.

Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said last week that there had been “no indication” of anything other than First Amendment activity. Days later, The Washington Post revealed the existence of a Jan. 5 report from the FBI’s field office in Norfolk that cited an online thread with detailed threats from extremists to be ready for “war.”

D’Antuono later characterized the warning as a “thread on a message board” that was not attributable to any particular person, suggesting there was not much that could be done with that information. He said the information was quickly shared with other law enforcement agencies through the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general office said it would look into the response of its component agencies, focusing in part on the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. That unit issues alerts to law enforcement agencies around the country.

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog, meanwhile, will review the actions of the Park Police, including how it handled law enforcement on the Ellipse, the site of Trump’s speech to supporters at a rally before the riot.

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Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer and Ben Fox contributed to this report.

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