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Senators Grill FBI Director Over Insurrection Security Failures; FBI Director Gives First Public Testimony Since Insurrection. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Bunker to save his job.

[10:00:02]

Obviously, there was a lot of pressure under the previous administration. And, frankly, that does bear into this hearing, the question has come up, which is that did the FBI not perhaps take seriously the threat from some of these groups that we now know were involved in the January 6th insurrection, groups like the Oath Keepers, the 3 Percenters, the Proud Boys. Did they not take them that seriously or did they not try to be more forward-leaning on them because these were Trump supporters. And I think you're going to hear some of the questions from Democrats.

The FBI, in its defense, says that they did produce intelligence, they and shared some of that with the U.S. Capitol Police. They can't force the Capitol Police to put more bodies in front of that building to protect the U.S. Capitol. They can't -- obviously, the Capitol Police answers to Congress, which is a separate branch of government. There is a lot of complications about what happened here, what went wrong on January 6th.

But I think you're going to hear questions about whether the FBI should have done more to get inside of these groups. We know that some of the groups certainly were planning a lot of the events, that we know from the court documents and the charges that have been brought against 300 people. We know that there was some planning involved.

Why did the FBI not see that, why did they miss some of that, And I think you're going to hear some defense from the director about some of those questions.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We just see him seated there, FBI Director Wray.

Evan, thank you very much. We'll listen into this as soon as he starts speaking.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it looks like an FBI mask there, perhaps.

HARLOW: I think so.

SCIUTTO: As we wait to hear from him, Andrew McCabe, former FBI Deputy Director, Ron Brownstein, Josh Campbell here.

Just quickly, Andrew, because I expect his to start shortly here, there is a lot of blame to go around. The U.S. Capitol Police, I mean, the president's comments, the FBI, you name it. But I was wondering, when everybody is to blame, no one is to blame. Who was in charge of security in the Capitol on that day? Who bears the most responsibility in your, view?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, ultimately, Jim, the institution primarily responsible for protecting the Capitol is the Capitol Police, right? So they are definitely on the hot seat. But they do it with the support of the entire community, with the intelligence support from the FBI and from others. So I think there are plenty of questions to fire at lots of folks, including the FBI director today.

HARLOW: I think, Josh, Jim makes such a good point that when everyone is to blame, no one is to blame. The question is not just backward- looking about what happened and where was the failure on the 6th, it is forward-looking, right? Because what we heard from the acting chief of police of the Capitol, Yogonanda Pittman, last week is that these militia groups are planning another attack and they're planning at specifically for when the president addresses the joint session of Congress, whenever that may be in the next few months.

So big questions about security now and ahead, right?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There is a lot to cover, a lot of ground to cover with this hearing. Lawmakers want to look back to before the attack, to figure out again was anything missed, especially with intelligence reporting. But also, as you mentioned, looking ahead, what is the current threat landscape. And it will be interesting to see whether lawmakers drill down to determine from the FBI director whether there is a sea change afoot in the FBI to reprogram resources, put more agents, more analysts on the domestic terrorism threat because we know from government officials that that remains the most serious domestic threat. It's coming from the extremists. So that will be interesting to see.

I will also be looking to see whether or not lawmakers ask about this really serious issue, and that is the idea that we have law enforcement officers and military members and former law enforcement military as part of the Capitol insurrectionists. We know that a lot of the extremist groups have talked about trying to recruit people with paramilitary type experience. What is the FBI doing to work with agencies, federally and state and local across the country to ferret out any in their midst? That is what I'll be looking for.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, listen, it's amazing to think. Imagine if you had current and former military and law enforcement among international terrorist groups. I mean, the threat is real.

Ron Brownstein, the sad fact is that even what we're still trying to sort out what went wrong on that day and what needs to be done to prevent the next attack, you have a propaganda campaign under way by some Republicans, some right-wing media to downplay what happened. It was a small number, bad apples, not that big a deal. How is that impacting this debate and could it hold back the steps necessary to keep the Capitol safe?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, very much. I mean, as I've written, I think extremist wing in the GOP has become too big for the party to confront. Jim, I'm going to leave the law enforcement to my colleagues, the experts, but I think you have to see this attack on the Capitol as the far end of a continuum of a multiple assaults on a Democrat process since the election are all rooted in the big lie that the election was stolen in predominantly African-Americans cities.

[10:05:06]

And you see the way that lie is fueling not only these attempts to kind of cover the sands over the attack on January 6th, but what's going on now, this unprecedented wave of voter suppression laws that are advancing in Republican states. Georgia state house passed a sweeping restriction, retrenchment of voting rights yesterday, probably the most sustained assault on voting rights since the Jim Crow era in the south.

So it is not only a question of covering up what happened in the past. As poppy said, there are implications going forward. You're seeing Republicans around the country use this argument to suppress, to make the case for suppressing the vote.

HARLOW: There is a direct correction. It's a great point, Ron.

So, everyone stand by. Let's listen in. it looks like they're showing the director an exhibit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ended up getting pinned there by the crowd. There is a guy ripping my mask off and able to rip away my baton and beat me with it. And he was practically foaming at the mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have dozens of officers down. And you got the nerve to be holding a Blue Lives Matter flag when one of our guys kept walking by, the other one pulled out his badge and said, trust me, I understand, we're doing this for you, buddy. And he has a badge. He shows me his badge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five people lost their lives that day, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They beat police officers. They fought us. They had confederate flags in the U.S. Capitol. And I call it a (INAUDIBLE) a couple of dozen times today. It wasn't just a mob or a bunch of thugs, you know, they were terrorists. They tried to disrupt this country's democracy. That was their goal. Is this America? Is this America? What the hell just happened?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The hate on display that terrible day is not a new phenomenon in our country. America's first domestic terror organization, the Ku Klux Klan, was born in the aftermath of the civil war to terrorize formerly enslaved African-Americans. As Judge Merrick Garland noted at his nomination hearing, the Department of Justice was founded during reconstruction to, quote, secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. He went on to note that the first attorney general appointed by President Graham led, quote, a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The insurrectionists who stormed on January 6th did not wear white robes and hoods. They might as well have. They are the latest incarnation of violent white supremacist movements that have terrorized fellow Americans on basis of their race, religion and national origin for more than 150 years.

Let me be clear at the outset, I've said this on many occasions and it bears repeating. I condemn all violence regardless of ideology. I hope my Republican colleagues will join me today in acknowledging as the Department of Homeland Security found last October that violent white supremacy is, quote, the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.

I hope they'll also join me in unequivocally, unequivocally condemning the big lie that the November 3rd election was stolen, a falsehood which the former president continues to spread, which helped provoke the January 6th insurrection and threatens to incite future attacks.

As the January 6th attack on the Capitol demonstrated for too long, our federal government has failed to address the growing terrorist menace in our backyard. I have been sounding this alarm for some time. In 2012, I held a hearing in this committee on hate crimes and domestic extremism, following the horrific massacre of six worshipers at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin perpetrated by a white supremacist.

In early 2017, I introduced the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act with Congressman Brad Schneider, a bill that would enhance the federal government's efforts to prevent domestic terrorism.

During the Trump administration, I led multiple letters to Attorney General Barr and to you asking the steps that were taken by the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat the growing threat of white supremacist violence. I asked why the bureau made the inexplicable decision to stop tracking white supremacist incidents as a separate category of domestic terrorism and I'm still awaiting the response.

Meanwhile, the threat posed by domestic terrorists and in particular white supremacists and other far-right extremists has only continued to grow. The 2015 mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist killed nine members of the church.

[10:10:01]

The 2018 mass shooting of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where white supremacists killed 11 members of that Jewish congregation.

The 2019 mass shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a white supremacist targeted Latinos, killing 23 people and many, many more.

Far too many Americans, particularly people of color and religious minorities, worry whether they're community will be next to be devastated by tragedy.

Despite the scope of the violent white supremacist threat, former President Trump and his administration unfortunately downplayed the threat posed by white supremacists. The Trump administration never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents of deadly terrorism by white supremacists and other extremists.

It was only after the Black Lives Matter activists protested last summer against police misconduct that the administration found the need to establish a task force to address and, I quote, anti- government extremists. In a recent report in The New York Times, details how the Trump administration's baseless efforts to paint the far-left as the real domestic terrorism threat, quote, diverted key portions of the federal law enforcement domestic security agencies at a time when the threat from the far-right was building ominously.

So to put this challenge in context, even conservative writers believe we are now facing a constitutional crisis. For the first time ever, we have failed to have a peaceful transfer of power and many are questioning the legitimacy of the current administration. The fact that this divisive political force is hateful and violent challenges all of us to redouble our efforts.

I join my Republican colleagues unequivocally in condemning left-wing violence but let's stop pretending that the threat of Antifa is the equivalent to the white supremacist threat. Vandalizing a federal courthouse in Portland is a crime. It should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law but it is not equivalent to a violent attempt to overturn the results of elections, nor is it equivalent to mass shootings targeting minority communities.

This false equivalency is an insult to the brave polices who were injured or lost their lives on January 6th, as well as dozens of others who have been murdered in white supremacist attacks. We need to be abundantly clear that the white supremacist and other extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today.

I hope everyone in this room could look at the facts and acknowledge this and we could come together on a bipartisan basis to defeat this threat.

Now, I'd like to turn to Ranking Member Grassley.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Director Wray, for being here as opposed to being virtual, like we have some people testifying. We all agree that what happened at the Capitol January 6th was a desecration of our shared values. It was an attack on the seat of democracy. Those who engaged in violence disgraced our country and we know the statistics, at least seven people, including one U.S. Capitol Police officer died as a result of that day. Also know that two officers committed suicide and we know that hundreds were injured. And we expected God watches over them and their families. Those who broke the law must be prosecuted and Congress needs answers, especially about one officer, Brian Sicknick, what happened to him.

In pursuit of the facts related to January 6th, Senator Durbin and I have sent oversight letters to the FBI and other agencies, to-date, we haven't received any productions. It is difficult to hold a hearing today without records. So the FBI must fully respond to Congress.

However, I'm pleased to see that many investigative cases are progressing around the country. As I've noted before, the ultimate responsibility for this attack rests on the shoulders of those who unlawfully entered the Capitol.

I've also made very clear that everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president, now in the wake of January 6th, we must seriously examine the threats of domestic extremism.

[10:15:03]

But, unfortunately, this threat isn't limited to the events of that terrible day. To fully address it we must examine the forms of domestic extremism that span the ideological spectrum and I hope this doesn't put me opposite Senator Durbin on these issues and I just heard him and I don't think I have disagreed with anything that he has said.

But a narrow view of these matters would be intellectually dishonest. We're not serious about tackling domestic extremism if we tolerate mobs that attack some police officers but not all police officers. We're not serious about tackling domestic extremism if we care about some government buildings being attacked but not others. We're not serious about tackling domestic extremism if we only focus on white supremacy movements, which isn't the only ideology that is responsible for murders and violence.

Yes, white supremacy movements may be considered the most dangerous at a given time, but somehow it wasn't last summer or won't be when the next foreign attack is attempted. We must call extremism wherever it happens across the board, left or right, every time. We must focus our resources to try to see as much of it coming as we possibly can, wherever it comes from.

It hardly registered in the media when marshals and Secret Service officers defended courthouses and the White House. That is not Senator Durbin's fault, that is the media's fault. They were called storm troopers by the speaker of the House, like they aren't even human beings. Vice President Harris, when she was a senator, supported the Minnesota Freedom Fund, an organization that helped bail out violent rioters in Minnesota. 13 staffers of candidate for president at that time posted on Twitter that they boasted on twitter that they donated to the group.

According to one news report, the group paid $75,000 to get one man out of jail when he was charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting at a police officer during the May protests.

One of the most upsetting aspects of the violence this summer has been the targeting of innocent law enforcement officers, just like innocent law enforcement officers were targeted during January 6th. We had more than 700 officers being injured between May 27th last year and June 8th last year.

Officers have been assaulted, slashed, struck with hammers, baseball bats and blinded by lasers. 67 Secret Service officers were injured during a three-day siege on the White House, which caused then President Trump to be brought into a secure bunker. We also remember on television seeing our colleague from Kentucky having a hard time getting to the White House when he wanted to go there sometime last summer. We also had the church across the street was lit on fire across the street from the White House, as part of that continued left-wing assault.

More than 300 people were charged federally for their roles in those months of violence. Any of those charged related to the use of arson and explosives. At least 14,000 people were arrested in 49 cities. At least 25 people died in violence related to the riots.

There has been 280 arrests as a result of the January 6th attack compared to more than 1,000 arrests as a result of riots just in Portland last year. It is been estimated that insurance losses of summer's civil unrest possibly exceeded $2 billion.

It's been a relatively frequent sight at summer's violence events to see individuals acting in coordination holding the A symbol for Antifa.

[10:20:11]

And as I said before, I don't disagree with anything I heard Senator Durbin say this morning but we did have an admitted Antifa adherence in Portland murder a conservative protester. Supporters of that group have been charged federally for promoting riots and using Molotov cocktails, even after President Biden's electoral victory. Can you believe this, Antifa rioters attacked the Oregon Democratic Party headquarters and they did that on inauguration day. You would think that the results of the election ought to satisfy them, if that is what they wanted to accomplish in an anti-Trump manner of getting rid of President Trump -- or Trump as president.

Let's not forget about left-wing activists who opened fire on 24 Republican congressman and hit a Capitol Police officer, a congressional aide and a lobbyist and Representative Steve Scalise at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. And, of course, our colleague on the other side of the aisle had life-threatening injury at that time.

In light of these ever present left-wing threats, I'm concerned about resource shifting talk among our colleagues across the aisle. Let me say this clearly, we aren't going to defund the anarchist extremist program or any other domestic terrorism program. It can't be that the FBI needs a fully funded art theft program but can't afford to fight both right-wing and left-wing extremism. We must examine the issue of domestic terrorism broadly, very broadly to include all forms of political extremism, domestic terrorism, whether it is -- wherever it falls on the political spectrum. No serious over sight activity and no other policy decisions can be made without doing both as we move forward.

I encourage both Houses of Congress to review not just the events of January 6th but also domestic violent extremism across the board and the threat it brings to our families and communities. And let me emphasize three times now, nothing that I heard Senator Durbin say do I disagree with, but we need real answers on extreme involvement, on pre-planning and coordination, and we also need to know what happened to Officer Brian Sicknick.

In closing, I want to express my sincere thanks and appreciation for law enforcement and in particular the Capitol Police for their efforts on the job and during the terrible events of January 6th. They're truly heroes. I yield.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Grassley.

Director Wray, would you please stand to be sworn? Do you affirm the testimony you're about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Thank you.

Let the record report that the director answered in the affirmative. And now, Director, you may proceed with your testimony.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: There we go. So, good morning, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley and members of committee, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to talk about the great work of the men and women of the FBI.

Let me start with a quick update on the investigation into the January 6th attack here at the Capitol.

I was appalled, like you, at the violence and destruction that we saw that day. I was appalled that you, our country's elected leaders, were victimized right here in these very halls. That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple, and it is behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism. It is got no place in our democracy and tolerating it would make a mockery of our nation's rule of law.

The rule of law, of course, is our country's bedrock and it is our guiding principle at the FBI. That is why the FBI has been working day and night across the country to track down those responsible for the events of January 6th and to hold them accountable.

[10:25:08]

We're chasing down leads, we're reviewing evidence, combing through digital media to identify, investigate and arrest anyone who broke the law that day. And our greatest partner in this investigation has been the American people themselves, your constituents.

Citizens from around the country have sent us more than 270,000 digit media tips. Some have taken the painful step of turning in their friends or their family members. But with their help, we've identified hundreds of suspects and opened hundreds of investigations in all but one of our 56 field offices.

And of those identified, we've arrested already more than 270 individuals to date, over 300 when you include the ones of our partners, with more subjects being identified and charged just about every single day. The FBI is committed to seeing this through no matter how many people it takes or how long or the resources we need to get it done. Because, as citizens, in a sense, we're all victims of the January 6th assault and the American people deserve nothing less.

Unfortunately, as you noted, Mr. Chairman, January 6th was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing cross the country for a long time now and it is not going is away any time soon. At the FBI, we've been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now. I've been sounding the alarm about domestic terrorism since, I think, just about my first month on the job when I first started appearing up on the Hill and I've spoken about it maybe a dozen different congressional hearings.

So whenever we've had the chance, we've tried to emphasize that this is a top concern and remains so for the FBI. In fact, in fact, we viewed it as such a critical threat that back in June of 2019, under my leadership, we elevated racially and ethnically-motivated violent extremism to our highest threat priority, on the same level with ISIS and homegrown violent extremism, where it remains to this day.

Now, I'm sure we're going to cover a lot of ground today but let me make one thing clear, the FBI will not tolerate agitators and extremists who plan or commit violence, period. And that goes for a violent extremists of any stripe. As I've said many times, we do not investigate ideology but we focus on acts of violence and violations of federal law. And when we see those, when we see those, we will bring to bear the full weight of our resources, our experience and our partnerships.

And when domestic violence extremists use explosive devices when they attack government facilities and businesses, when they assault law enforcement officers, when they use violence to interfere with the lawful operation of our government, they should expect the FBI to come knocking on their door, no matter where they try to run.

Now, of course, these are not the only issues the FBI is focused on every day, and as I hope we'll discuss in more detail this morning, we'll confront a wide variety of threats in countless other forms like, the SolarWinds intrusion, which we're working to investigate and counter with our intelligence, law enforcement and private sector partners, both here and abroad, not to mention a huge range of other cyber threats from nation states, criminals and toxic combinations of the two.

Like the vast, unrelenting counterintelligence threat from China and, of course, the alarming threat of violence towards law enforcement officers, a threat that is especially close to home here in the Capitol. The attack on January 6th not only resulted in the injuries of over 100 law enforcement officers, but also the tragic death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick in the line of duty.

The threat of violence to law enforcement is also deeply personal for us at the FBI. Just one month ago today, two of our special agents, Laura Schwartzenberger and Dan Alfin were tragically killed in the line of duty and four more of our agents shot or wounded all while serving a search warrant.

And I can tell through is nothing, nothing more devastating, more heartbreaking than the loss of our own. The loss of two special agents who not only bravely did what I consider one of the hardest jobs in the FBI, investigating crimes against children, but who were also each parents of young children themselves, of their own, a wife, a husband and cherished members of their communities.

[10:30:02]

And I know a number of members of Congress, including a number on this committee reached out and offered.