Home Politique Amerique House Cancels Thursday Session After Security Agencies Cite Risk of New Violence
Amerique - 4 mars 2021

House Cancels Thursday Session After Security Agencies Cite Risk of New Violence

House leaders canceled Thursday’s legislative session and rescheduled morning votes after police officials warned of a possible plot by a militia group to again storm the Capitol.

The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) announced late Wednesday that all votes set for later this week would be wrapped up by the evening. Capitol Police said they have obtained intelligence that “shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group” on March 4.

House Democratic leaders who discussed the warning decided the threat of violence was too significant to ignore and lawmakers were concerned about being in the building, according to Democratic aides. They moved Thursday morning’s votes to Wednesday evening.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t immediately provide an update on the Senate schedule. Democrats are currently working to finalize changes to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid bill.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint intelligence bulletin highlighting the belief among some members of the conspiracy-theory group QAnon that former President Donald Trump “will be inaugurated on 4 March or will return to power on 20 May with the help of the U.S. military.” The memo, dated Tuesday and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, says domestic violent extremists remain inspired by “election fraud and other conspiracy theories associated with the presidential transition.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said on Cnn that Mr. Trump “has a responsibility to tell them to stand down.” Aides to Mr. Trump didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Citing FBI reporting, the security bulletin says extremists discussed plans as of late February to take control of the Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers “on or about 4 March” and “discussed aspirational plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC to participate.” March 4 was the nation’s Inauguration Day until 1937.

The agencies recommend that federal, state and local counterterrorism and police officials “remain vigilant in light of the persistent threat posed by [domestic violent extremists] and their unpredictable target selection.”

Capitol security officials are preparing for potential threats on Thursday and adding personnel to protect lawmakers, according to a separate memo sent to members of Congress and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The acting House sergeant at arms, Timothy Blodgett, wrote in the memo that the Capitol was still on alert even though “the significance of this date has reportedly declined amongst various groups in recent days.” While the Capitol Police “has no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence,” he said the police force would add additional officers across the Capitol grounds, supplementing the National Guard’s continuing presence.

The National Park Service and the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. capital’s police agency, haven’t received any permit requests for rallies or other gatherings on March 4, spokespeople said.

The warning highlighted testimony Wednesday from officials from the FBI, DHS intelligence branch, the Defense Department and Washington’s National Guard before bipartisan Senate committees probing security failures before and during the Capitol riot. The Fbi and DHS in particular face scrutiny from lawmakers about why they didn’t do more ahead of the Jan. 6 attack, including their opting not to send such a joint intelligence bulletin in advance of that event.

Melissa Smislova, a top official at DHS’s intelligence branch, faced questions about why the unit didn’t issue a warning specific to Jan. 6. “In hindsight, we probably should have,” Ms. Smislova responded.

Senators also focused on the delay in deploying the National Guard to respond to the attack.

Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the Washington, D.C., National Guard, told the senators he was able to quickly get approval for National Guard troops during social-justice protests last June but encountered faced what he called unusual delays of several hours on Jan. 6.

Gen. Walker said he received a frantic call from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund at 1:49 p.m. on Jan. 6 requesting immediate support from the National Guard. Gen. Walker said he then immediately alerted senior Army leadership but that he didn’t receive formal approval until 5:08 p.m.—three hours and 19 minutes later.

Gen. Walker said that during a call, Army officials advised not to send uniformed Guardsmen to the Capitol despite requests. “The Army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd,” Gen. Walker said.

Those concerns were expressed, Gen. Walker later said, by two Pentagon officials: Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of the Army staff, and Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, another Army official and the brother of Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Gen. Walker’s account prompted a rebuttal from Robert Salesses, a top Defense Department official, who said while he wasn’t on that call, Gen. Piatt told him he said nothing about optics. Mr. Salesses said Gens. Piatt and Flynn weren’t decision makers in the matter.

An Army spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Gen. Piatt’s and Gen. Flynn’s roles.

No Defense Department official involved in the Jan. 6 decision-making was present during the hearing, annoying some lawmakers. Instead, the Pentagon sent Mr. Salesses, an official appointed to a top role in the weeks after the attack who wasn’t involved in key decisions.

“I’m disappointed we don’t have someone from DOD who actually was there at the time,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), who pressed Mr. Salesses for more information about the hourslong delay.

“3 hours and 19 minutes…that can’t happen again. Do you agree with that?” Mr. Portman asked Mr. Salesses.

“Senator, I do,” Mr. Salesses responded.

Gen. Walker also blamed the slow response on the Pentagon, describing a directive he had received requiring him “to seek authorization from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense to essentially even protect my Guardsmen.”

The hearing was organized by Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) and Mr. Portman, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), chairwoman and ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee.

Wednesday’s hearing came a day after FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before another Senate committee on the bureau’s intelligence offerings before the attack, which Capitol security officials and some lawmakers have criticized as inadequate. Mr. Wray defended the bureau’s handling of information warning of the prospect of violence on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, saying “the problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing” and describing an increasingly complex extremist threat landscape.

Tuesday’s bulletin echoed those concerns, saying antigovernment extremists, specifically those tied to militias, racially or ethnically motivated, or “citing partisan political grievances will likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021.”

The FBI and DHS said in the bulletin that their “insight into specific threats is increasingly constrained by the expanding use of secure communications by [domestic violent extremists] following the arrest of individuals involved in the Capitol breach.”

Roughly 5,200 National Guard members are helping provide security in Washington as of this week, a National Guard spokesman said Monday, adding they are expected to depart later this month. Their numbers have gradually been reduced since authorities deployed roughly 26,000 Guard members to protect President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Rachael Levy, Alexa Corse 

Write to Alexa Corse at alexa.corse@wsj.com

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