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The Morning Dispatch: Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for January 6
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The Morning Dispatch: Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for January 6

Plus: Republicans unite in opposition to Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to head Health and Human Services.

Happy Wednesday! Our prayers go out to golfing legend Tiger Woods, who suffered serious injuries in a car accident outside of Los Angeles yesterday. 🙏⛳🐅

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations.

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned in congressional testimony yesterday that there is a “long way” to go in the United States’ economic recovery from the pandemic, but noted that “developments point to an improved outlook for later this year.”

  • Georgian police raided opposition party headquarters in Tbilisi on Tuesday, arresting United National Movement leader Nika Melia on charges of “organizing mass violence” during anti-government demonstrations in 2019. A State Department spokesperson said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the development: “Polarizing rhetoric, force and aggression are not the solution to Georgia’s political differences.”

  • The Biden administration opened its first emergency migrant camp near the southern border this week, reactivating a facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, used by the Trump administration to hold up to 700 teenage children. 

  • Iranian officials on Tuesday signaled openness toward reengaging with European Union and U.S. negotiators on the topic of the country’s nuclear proliferation. Citing the United States’ refusal to lift sanctions, Tehran also followed through on its threat to limit U.N. monitors’ ability to inspect the country’s nuclear sites and security footage.

  • Five board members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid, are resigning after last week’s winter storm caused widespread power across the state, according to a filing with the Texas Public Utility Commission.

  • Virginia lawmakers passed a bill this week abolishing the death penalty statewide. Gov. Ralph Northam said he plans to sign it into law.

  • The United States confirmed 72,824 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.8 percent of the 826,072 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 2,393 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 502,594. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 55,058 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 854,609 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, bringing the nationwide total to 65,032,083.

Former Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for January 6

It’s been nearly 50 days since a horde of violent rioters overran police forces and stormed the U.S. Capitol, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the events of January 6. Two Senate committees attempted to get some more answers on Tuesday, holding a hearing with three former security officials who were responsible for protecting the Capitol complex that day. 

The trio—all of whom resigned shortly after the attack—presented a messy, inconsistent picture of what happened, deflecting blame for their inadequate preparation toward the intelligence community. Nobody could have known at the time that a massive assault on the building was in the cards, they argued. They said they believed their security plan was sufficient.

“There’s significant evidence coming out that the insurrection that occurred on the 6th was planned, coordinated well in advance,” said former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. “And it’s that detection that I think would have been key to putting the effective security in place for this event.”

Sund added that although an FBI field office warning that extremists were preparing for “war” the following day was emailed to the Capitol Police intelligence unit on January 5, he personallynever received it. The two other top Capitol security officials who testified Tuesday, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, said they didn’t get the memo either. Sund didn’t explain why this intelligence never made it to him, but he also downplayed the actionability of the report, saying it included raw information—specifically, social media posts—that hadn’t been corroborated at the time it was sent.

“None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred,” he said.

Intelligence gathering and cross-departmental communication leading up to the attack had major flaws. But it’s unclear why the three top Capitol security officials would require intelligence analysts to carefully spell out a potential worst case scenario to them in advance in order to consider more robust security measures and contingency plans. There was an abundance of public information available in the weeks leading up to the attack that could have prompted stronger precautions if the threats had been taken seriously. People who said they planned to participate in the rally openly discussed and workshopped their plans to storm the Capitol on pro-Trump internet forums.

“When I was coming back to Washington before Jan 6, my wife was concerned that I might not be safe,” Sen. Mitt Romney noted. “This was almost broad knowledge that there was a threat.”

Sund testified Tuesday that he became more concerned about the threat early in the week, and two days before the attack he asked for National Guard help covering an expanded perimeter around the Capitol. He said he was rebuffed by Irving, the former House sergeant at arms, who cited concerns about optics. Irving denied that version of events, saying Sund instead relayed an offer from the D.C. National Guard to have 125 troops help with traffic that day. Irving claimed he, Sund, and Stenger agreed not to accept the offer because they didn’t think it was needed considering intelligence reports at the time. 

Sund and Irving also had different accounts of when Sund first requested National Guard assistance on the afternoon of January 6. Sund said he made a call at 1:09 p.m. asking Irving to declare a state of emergency and bring in the National Guard. He said two of his deputies were in the room when he made the call, and he followed up again at 1:22 p.m. to see if his request had been granted. He said Irving indicated he had to “run it up the chain of command.” 

Irving, meanwhile, denied the 1:09 p.m. phone call took place. He said he doesn’t remember or have a record of Sund calling him then and noted that he was on the House floor at that point—which is corroborated by C-SPAN floor footage. 

Rather, Irving claims Sund first called him around 1:30 p.m., and formally made the request at about 2 p.m., at which point Irving moved ahead with seeking final approval from the Department of Defense. This final step was necessary because Washington, D.C., is not a state and cannot unilaterally deploy its own National Guard.

It’s difficult to reconcile the accounts without leaving open the possibility that at least one of the men is simply mistaken or intentionally being misleading. The stark disagreements between the two weren’t resolved during the hearing. Senators said they would like to see both of their phone records to look into the discrepancy.

Sund said the process for calling in assistance should be streamlined to avoid bureaucratic headaches and delays during an emergency.

“Today we saw a lot of problems with the structure itself, and a crisis moment where the structure actually got in the way of getting things done,” Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters after the hearing.

Sund also testified about the struggle to convince the Pentagon to approve the National Guard request. He previously said Army staff director Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt was resistant to the request, telling him during a conference call around 2:30 p.m. that he didn’t like the visual of boots on the ground protecting the Capitol. Sund emphasized the delay again on Tuesday.

Acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III also testified during the hearing, saying he was taken aback by how difficult it seemed to convince the Pentagon to send help. Contee said Sund was “literally pleading” for the National Guard to be deployed, and he was not met with an immediate response.

“I have officers who are out there literally fighting for their lives,” Contee told the senators. “I was just stunned at that response.”

Senators said they are planning another hearing for next week with witnesses from the FBI, Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security. The investigation comes as congressional leaders are working to hash out the details of a potential 9/11-style commission to establish the facts about the attack.

Becerra Brouhaha

Thus far in the Biden administration, Senate Republicans have largely played nice with Democrats in ushering the president’s picks for top administration positions through the confirmation process. Of the nine nominees confirmed to Cabinet-level posts so far, only Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas faced anything close to a party-line vote when he was confirmed 56-43 on February 2.

But two nominees currently before the Senate have been met with much stronger Republican skepticism. One is Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, whose nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget is on the rocks in part because of her history of jeering at Republican lawmakers on Twitter. The other is Xavier Becerra, the current attorney general of California and Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, who faced his first hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions yesterday.

Republicans have both partisan and nonpartisan reasons to bristle at the Becerra nomination. The nonpartisan gripe is based on experience: While Becerra has served in government for decades—he was a member of the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017—he has never served in an executive health policy role. If there’s one nominee you’d like to be able to hit the ground running in a new administration during a global pandemic, Republicans have argued, it’s the head of Health and Human Services.

But the more visceral opposition to Becerra stems from what Republicans describe as his radical views on the role of government in health care, his intense opposition to any government limitations on abortion, and his track record in California of wielding state power against groups from crisis pregnancy centers to orders of nuns that didn’t comply with state and federal laws later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

David summed up the Republican case against Becerra in the French Press back in December:

Becerra zealously defended a California law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for free and low-cost abortions. He defied the current HHS Office of Civil Rights to attempt to force churches to provide abortion coverage. He selectively and aggressively prosecuted an undercover pro-life activist, and he litigated against the Little Sisters of the Poor as part of a continuing effort to coerce religious institutions into violating their consciences to facilitate contraceptive coverage.

In a letter to Biden this week spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton, dozens of House and Senate Republicans accused Becerra of “contempt for anyone who doesn’t agree with his radical leftist agenda,” which they said ran afoul of Biden’s pledge to govern on a unity platform.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Becerra was circumspect and polite to a fault, beginning each round of questioning by thanking his various interlocutors for their work on health policy and repeatedly emphasizing his desire to work with members of both parties to “find common ground.”

“No one understands your states and your communities better than you,” Becerra said in his opening statement. “We may not always agree, but if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will always listen to you and keep an open mind, find common cause, and work with you to improve the health and dignity of the American people.”

Meanwhile, committee Democrats overflowed with praise for Becerra. “This is someone who is in the weeds of health care policy, health care coverage,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. 

“I’m very proud to have known Xavier Becerra for years as both a friend and a colleague,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “As our state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra leads the nation’s second-largest Department of Justice, and has major experience leading large and diverse organizations. We believe this positions him to successfully lead the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the nation’s largest federal agency by budget.”

Despite Becerra’s conciliatory tone, however, Republicans remained plainly unconvinced by his pledges to look for common ground.

“There’s a division in our country with regards to the issue of abortion, of course, as you know,” Sen. Mitt Romney said to Becerra at one point in the hearing. “Mainstream Republicans, mainstream Democrats disagree. But most people agree that partial-birth abortion is awful. You voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. Why?”

“So, senator, here I understand that people have different deeply held beliefs on this issue,” Becerra replied. “And I respect that. I have worked as I mentioned for decades trying to protect the health of men and women young and old, and as attorney general my job has been to follow the law and make sure others are following the law. And I’m also sitting in front of a high-risk ob/gyn who for several decades had to work protecting the health of women and a future baby. And so I will tell you that when I come to these issues, we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues, because everyone wants to make sure that if you have an opportunity, you’re going to live a healthy life. And I will tell you that I hope to be able to work with you and others to reach that common ground on so many different issues.”

“I think we can reach common ground on many issues,” Romney replied, “but on partial-birth abortion, it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there.”

With Republicans lining up against the nominee, Becerra will likely need the support of just about every Democratic senator—including Sen. Joe Manchin, who at this point has “not yet decided” how he’ll vote—to make it through the process.

Worth Your Time

  • If you appreciated our piece yesterday on COVID-19 optimism, definitely check out Ross Douthat’s latest New York Times column. “I am not vested with Biden’s authority or Fauci’s expertise, but I can read trend lines and vaccine studies, and at this moment both their takes look way too pessimistic,” he writes. “After a year of misery, death and sacrifice, the public has a right to know in advance when the emergency should reasonably be over. People who are struggling or despairing right now need a sense of hope, of light at the end of winter’s tunnel. People who are unsure whether to be vaccinated deserve to be told that it can actually change all of our lives, and quickly.”

  • A 105-year-old New Jersey woman recently beat COVID-19, and provided some tips to Tracey Tully on the secret to a long life: prayer, no junk food, and … nine gin-soaked golden raisins in the morning. Lucia DeClerck is the oldest resident of a South Jersey nursing home, and she has now survived two global pandemics. A devout Catholic, DeClerck is never seen without her rosary beads.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In her latest Sweep newsletter, Sarah brings us up to speed on New Hampshire’s “first in the nation” primary status, the role Trump will play in the 2022 midterms, and the electoral impact of voting for impeachment as a Republican. Stick around for Chris Stirewalt offering his two cents on California Republicans’ efforts to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Charlotte’s much needed update on New York City’s crowded mayoral race.

  • Why does every genuine crisis have to be injected into the culture war? In his Tuesday French Press (🔒), David notes that performance politics is all the rage these days, and it won’t stop until we make it stop. “We’ll live with unnecessary blackouts, closed schools, chaotic and opaque vaccine rollouts, and all the other bitter fruits of a culture far more oriented towards confrontation than competence,” he writes. “We may say this isn’t the world we want, but at the end of the day, our votes (and clicks) speak louder than our words.”

  • House Democrats are set to vote on Biden’s $1.9 trillian COVID relief bill sometime this week, and Haley has the latest details in her Uphill newsletter. Plus, Haley and Andrew catch us up on the Capitol security briefings and Judge Merrick Garland’s Senate confirmation hearing.

Let Us Know

As we note in an article on the site today by Walter Olson, House Democrats are pushing cable providers and streaming services to drop Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax, citing the networks’ dissemination of disinformation. How much of your “media diet” is cable news, compared with newspapers (online or print) and other print publications? What are your favorite sources?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).