Normally, after a major event like this – a terrorist attack in the heart of our government – one would expect senior federal law enforcement officials to report what they know as fully as possible. They will quickly inform and reassure the public by telling them who did what, how it happened and what the current threat is.
Probably the most notable part of the update is the part that wasn’t there. Senior Justice and FBI officials – acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Director Christopher Wray – were not present. This also applies to other senior officials of the relevant agencies, such as B. Department of Homeland Security. Instead, we saw the deputy director of the FBI’s Washington, D.C. office, Steve D’Antuono, and the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin.
Although these two officers were undoubtedly following the riot investigation closely, the absence of their superiors – and even their deputies – was unexpected given the scale of the attack.
The press conference focused almost exclusively on the investigation of the attack – on solving the crime. It is, of course, the responsibility of the Department of Justice to collect evidence, locate suspects and bring perpetrators to justice.
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We learned from D’Antuono that the FBI treated the Capitol Hill attack as an international terrorist incident and opened 170 files (listing individuals identified as potential perpetrators) and charged more than 70 of them.
Sherwin pointed out that each offender is charged with the most serious offense, including conspiracy and up to and including sedition.
But the two officials seemed to go back in time to explain what federal law enforcement knew and did before the Trump rally and the attack that followed, particularly how the feds coordinated with other agencies to prepare for the problems.
They also failed to mention the threatening bulletin sent to all 50 states, warning of armed protests at every state capitol and in Washington in the days leading up to January. 20 Inauguration scheduled.
Objective 2: Eliminate misinformation and conspiracy theories by providing facts
Many Americans are wondering how this attack could have happened. Since September 11, 2001, law enforcement has significantly improved its ability to detect and disrupt the development of terrorist plots. More recently, in October, the FBI foiled an apparent plot by a militia to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
It’s hard to see how – especially in light of the many threats of violence being openly circulated on social media by pro-Trump groups and individuals – the FBI and its law enforcement partners weren’t better prepared for what was happening.
Unfortunately, neither D’Antuono nor Sherwin gave much explanation. Of course, law enforcement agencies are often unable to comment on matters that might jeopardize an ongoing investigation. But when they do, they usually say so. On Tuesday, however, D’Antuono was surprised to admit that the FBI had information from his Norfolk field office that indicated plans for violence on Capitol Hill.
This contradicts his earlier statement to reporters on Friday that the FBI had no such information prior to the attack. Nor did he explain why, after the Joint Terrorism Task Force received the information from Norfolk, no action was taken.
Without filling in the blanks or even saying that the FBI had reviewed all previously known information, officials began to speculate further about whether the government’s flat response to the Capitol Hill attack was due to negligence or, worse, a deliberate intelligence failure.
They missed the opportunity to speak out as forcefully as possible about how law enforcement approached this high-profile meeting, which could contribute to further undermining the credibility of law enforcement and the spread of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
Objective 3: Reducing future violence by sending a clear message.
Many members of the Capitol Mafia probably watched the press conference to find out what the FBI knew. On this front, the two officials have sent a clear message that they will use all available means to identify and prosecute anyone who attacks the seat of our democracy.
Make no mistake: The people who planned and participated in this atrocity will be beaten to the door by the FBI soon enough.
But the threat of internal terror is not limited to a crowd. The mere fact that the FBI has sent a threatening letter to all 50 states shows that a corrupt ideology based on lies about election fraud is spreading.
But neither D’Antuono nor Sherwin addressed this future threat, issued a warning to anyone planning violence, or even designated the individuals involved as domestic terrorists.
Maybe it’s because they’ve seen how the president reacts when such language is used against his defenders and allies. After all, neither the FBI nor the DOJ can afford to lose their leadership at this critical juncture because Trump has decided to fire them. Unfortunately, if that fear led to Tuesday’s outbursts, it may actually encourage the very people they are trying to protect us from.
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