At stake in Senate debate Tuesday: The story of the Capitol riot, and who is responsible

But Tuesday’s hearing before members of two Senate committees could also be a battleground for competing stories about what prompted the riots and who was responsible for it – an issue that has become even more acute since former President Donald Trump’s acquittal of deportation changes earlier this month.

Trump’s allies inside and outside Congress have sought to downplay the former president’s role in gathering his supporters in Washington and spreading the false claim that he, not President Biden, won the November election – facts that led to bipartisan deportation proceedings. Instead, they have tried to blame the loss of the Capitol’s security officials – and the congressional leaders to whom they report – for the building’s invasion.

This has heightened the drama surrounding the expected testimony of former weapons sergeant Paul D. Irving and former Senate weapons officer Michael C. Stenger, who resigned soon after the riot was suppressed. None of the men have spoken publicly about their experiences and decision-making before and during the riot.

Also expected to appear on Tuesday are former Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund, who has spoken to the media about his frustrations seeking help from Irving and Stenger ahead of the riot, and acting DC Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, whose officers engaged in some of the most brutal clashes with rioters at the Capitol’s doors. The riot resulted in one Capitol police officer and four others being killed.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chair of the Senate Regulatory and Administration Committee, said in an interview that preparations for the hearing have been strictly bipartisan and that she expected a “constructive tone”.

Many have claimed that President Donald Trump’s efforts amounted to a coup attempt on January 6. Was it? And why does it matter? (Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi / The Washington Post)

“This is a moment to get facts about what happened at the Capitol,” she said. “The questions we identify and the answers we get are part of the solution, so it’s not just about throwing popcorn on a movie screen to try to get audio clips. In fact, we will have to make decisions in the coming months. ”

But she acknowledged that other senators could focus on controversial aspects of the riot. These issues are likely to include the role played by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) In reviewing or approving Capitol Security plans prior to the attack.

Irving reported to Pelosi and Stenger reported to McConnell, who was the majority leader in the riot. Both men sit on the Capitol Police Board, a four-member secret body that oversees congressional security issues that also includes the Capitol Police Chief and the Capitol’s president-elect architect.

While neither Irving nor Stenger has raised the issue directly, a former Capitol security chief who last month forwarded to The Washington Post at Irving’s request that Irving dismiss Sund’s request to call in National Guard troops, citing “optics” for stationing uniformed military personnel at the seat of the Federal Government.

Irving did not consult Pelosi about the decision to reject the request, said the official, former Senate Bill Billle, but Irving thought he reflected her wishes.

That has not stopped several senior House Republicans from trying to add Pelosi to the list of those responsible for the events of January 6. The top GOP members in four House committees last week demanded Pelosi answer questions about her knowledge of security preparations and claims that “many important questions about your responsibility for the Capitol’s security remain unanswered.”

“The speaker is responsible for all operational decisions taken in this House,” they wrote.

Other GOP allies are also participating, including the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has gone to court with a request for e-mail from members of the Capitol security apparatus and a comprehensive demand for security video at the Capitol.

“We do not trust Nancy Pelosi (or frankly any other politician) to honestly examine the many controversies surrounding January 6, and therefore we want to take a closer look,” the group said in an email last week.

Pelos spokesman Drew Hammill said the GOP letter reflected an attempt to “divert responsibility for the Donald Trump Capitol attack”, noting that Irving and Sund informed lawmakers a day before the riots and assured them that all necessary precautions had been taken.

“As a target for an assassination attempt, the speaker knows all too well the importance of security at the Capitol and is focused on getting to the bottom of all the issues facing the Capitol Complex and the events that led to the uprising,” Hammill said. .

Republican senators have not made a similar demand for transparency from McConnell, who oversaw Stenger’s tenure in 2018 and demanded that he resign immediately after the riot.

But at least one senator who will ask questions on Tuesday has shown a willingness to challenge the prevailing evidence that the Capitol attack was carried out by Trump supporters, at least some of whom saw the infiltration of the Capitol as a way to prevent the counting of electoral votes. was in progress that time and prevents the inauguration of Biden.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Has publicly suggested that Pelosi is to blame for the riot and last week questioned whether the events of January 6 could be considered an “armed uprising” despite several rioters carrying weapons and a cache of weapons being found near the Capitol. -basics.

A spokesman for Johnson did not return a request for comment Monday.

Three other senators who will attend Tuesday’s hearing – Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) And Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) – voted to discount at least one state election. votes after the riot took place.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) Said in an interview on Monday that he expects Tuesday’s hearings to “lead to even more questions” about what contributed to security failures on January 6. Both he and Klobuchar said at least one more hearing would be called with senior officials at the federal agencies involved in the preparations and response to the uprising.

“We need to know more about what happened before January 6, and that’s really something I will focus on as chairman,” Peters said, noting that “it really does seem like a major failure of leadership.”

But he circumvented questions about whether the expected grilling of Irving and Stenger could lead to a more biased and complicated debate about whether Pelosi or other elected officials are responsible for the lack of preparedness.

Klobuchar and Peters stressed that they work in close coordination with the best Republicans in their panels, sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), and expects to continue the investigation on a “non-partisan” basis.

“We need to know: was there credible information about potential violence; when was it known; and who knew, Portman is expected to say, according to a copy of his prepared statement obtained by The Post. “We need to know what happened and how we can ensure that this never happens again.”

Peters would not speculate on what the final product of the panel’s investigations would be – except to say that after “a number of hearings” there would probably be “a series of political decisions.” Klobuchar said the hearing could result in improvements in the collection and analysis of reports of threats to the Capitol, as well as a possible restructuring of the Capitol Police Board.

In addition to the congressional probe, federal prosecutors continue to file lawsuits against rioters, government offices are investigating security preparations, and top congressmen continue to discuss the creation of an external commission to investigate the attack, one designed after the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. However, this effort seemed to be on hold Monday in the midst of a biased dispute over its structure.

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