Lawmakers Prepare Committee Investigations Into Capitol Siege

  • Consideration for an outside panel similar to the 9/11 Commission
  • Numerous committees gathering information, promising hearings

The numerous angles to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the vast and overlapping jurisdictions of congressional committees has led to a web of potential investigations into what happened and how to prevent it from occurring again.

Lawmakers seeking answers about how their lives could be put at such risk during the electoral vote count have begun digging into the logistics around the insurrection and why the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies were unable to control the pro-Trump mob.

There are also discussions about a bipartisan commission akin to the one Congress created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that would be tasked with exploring the incident. There’s no agreement yet on whether to form such an outside panel, whether it would be a commission or another format, or what the investigation’s scope would be, according to two House staffers familiar with the discussions.

In the meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, to review Capitol security, and committees are getting started examining various aspects of how the mob formed and got so close to lawmakers and staffers.

“The committees will be doing their oversight in many different ways,” Pelosi said at a news conference. She added that “the investigation will tell us what we need to know to have truth so that we can trust the system that we have here.”

Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Capitol Police officers point guns at a door in the House chamber on Jan. 6 as a pro-Trump mob stormed the building.

Here is a rundown of the committees that are poised to play a role in the wide investigation:

House Administration; Senate Rules and Administration

The committees that directly oversee the Capitol Police are poised to play a major role into one of the key questions around the attack: Why was the police force tasked with protecting the Capitol unable to stop a mob from getting perilously close to lawmakers?

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chair of the House Administration Committee, said in a statement that the breach “raises grave security concerns.” She’s begun discussing a bicameral, bipartisan investigatory panel with other lawmakers.

The bipartisan heads of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released a joint statement pledging to “conduct oversight and hold bipartisan hearings on these horrific events, and work together to make the necessary reforms to ensure this never happens again.” Oversight of “security failures” was specifically mentioned.

House, Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittees

The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on the Legislative Branch, and eventually the full committee, set funding levels for the Capitol Police. For the current fiscal year, the police received $516 million for a force of 2,300 officers, making it one of the best-funded police forces in the country.

Last year, lawmakers on the committees used the report accompanying the bill to call for more accountability and transparency within the department, such as making certain reports from their inspector general public, releasing information in the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, and creating a community notification system for the public. However, reports don’t have the same force as law — the language amounts to a strong request.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), chair of the Legislative Branch funding panel, said the day after the insurrection that the subcommittee was already investigating the events and would hold hearings into what went wrong.

“It is obvious that there was a severe systemic failure in securing the building’s perimeter and in the response once the building was breached,” Ryan and DeLauro said in a statement.

The twin panel in the Senate will also have a say in how much funding Capitol Police gets, along with both where it’s allocated and where it can’t be spent.

House Homeland Security

Like his Senate counterparts, House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) vowed soon after the attack that “those of us charged with protecting the homeland will do our utmost to ensure that these terrorists and insurrectionists are held to account and that security is bolstered to guard against future attacks.”

The committee previously investigated domestic terrorism, right-wing extremism, and white nationalism. Those issues, Thompson said in a statement, “will be at the top of our agenda for the new Congress.”

Thompson was one of five House committee and subcommittee chairs to request and receive a briefing from the FBI on the Capitol siege and next steps. The others are Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and Stephen Lynch, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security.

After the briefing, the lawmakers said in a statement that they would “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.”

House Armed Services, Judiciary, Intelligence, Oversight

The other four House committees that signed on to the FBI letter — Armed Services, Judiciary, Intelligence, Oversight and Reform — have since contacted additional federal law enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies for more information on the insurrection.

The committee heads said in a letter that they will “conduct robust oversight to understand what warning signs may have been missed, determine whether there were systemic failures, and consider how to best address countering domestic violent extremism, including remedying any gaps in legislation or policy.”

The Jan. 16 letter was sent to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The committees’ Senate counterparts could also play a role in an investigation. How lawmakers proceed will depend in part on what power-sharing agreement Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) come to for the 50-50 Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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