Nearly 500 supporters of former President Donald Trump have now been charged in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the number of arrests is growing, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday, while rejecting charges by Democratic lawmakers that the FBI failed to see the attack coming.
At the same time, Wray declined to say whether the FBI was investigating Trump and his associates for allegedly inciting the rioters to storm the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the November presidential election.
Early this year, Trump was impeached for a second time. In this case, he was charged with inciting insurrection for delivering a fiery speech to supporters, urging them to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” to block Biden’s election.
Although the Senate acquitted Trump on February 13, Democrats have long called for the Department of Justice to investigate Trump’s conduct for possible criminal violations.
In his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since the attack, Wray condemned the January 6 riot as an act of domestic terrorism but refused to term it an “insurrection,” as many Democrats have. Wray made similar comments during a March appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
More arrests Thursday
Nearly 800 Trump fans stormed the Capitol on January 6, leading to the deaths of five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, and many injuries.
Wray said the number of arrests related to the riot was “sure” to grow.
Indeed, late in the day, the Justice Department announced that six California men – four of whom identify as members of the right-wing Three Percenters militia – were arrested on accusations related to the Capitol breach.
The men were charged with federal offenses including conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawful entry on a restricted building or ground. One was also charged with possession of a dangerous weapon.
Wray said that “almost none” of those arrested so far were previously under investigation by the FBI. He dismissed suggestions that the FBI had failed to prevent them from traveling to Washington.
The majority of the rioters arrested so far face trespassing and other minor charges.
But more than three dozen members of two far-right groups — the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — have been charged with conspiracy and other crimes. Wray said the FBI was in the midst of bringing more serious charges.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Wray said. “There is a lot more to come, and I’d expect to see more charges, some more serious charges.”
Threat missed, or underestimated?
Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, slammed the FBI for failing to anticipate the bloody and hourslong attack on the Capitol. He said “the attack was planned in public view,” with Trump supporters openly sharing maps of the Capitol tunnels online and calling for “breaking” into the Capitol.
“It is hard to tell whether FBI headquarters merely missed the evidence, or whether the bureau saw the intelligence, underestimated the threat and simply failed to act,” Nadler said.
At issue was a January 5 intelligence report by the FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia, office, which warned that pro-Trump extremists were preparing to travel to Washington and engage in violence.
Wray said that the report was based on raw, unverified intelligence but that the bureau had found it “concerning” enough that it quickly shared it with U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies.
“The most important thing I’d say is we did not dismiss the Norfolk situational information report,” Wray said. “Quite the contrary, often when we get online chatter or raw information, we take time, which would be our preference, to run it and figure out whether it’s real or not.”
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Wray’s testimony came days after a bipartisan Senate report on the Capitol attack found that an intelligence breakdown contributed to the violent breach. Despite issuing more than a dozen reports about violent extremism throughout 2020, neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security issued “a threat assessment warning of potential violence targeting the Capitol on January 6,” according to the Senate report.
Given its bipartisan nature, the report did not address the root causes of the riot, which Democrats have squarely blamed on Trump’s rhetoric about a stolen election following his electoral loss.
Wray said he was “not aware” of any investigation specifically examining the role Trump rhetoric played in the lead-up to the violence at the Capitol and how Trump and other officials responded during the riot.
Pressed by Democratic Representative Steve Cohen about whether the FBI was investigating the former president’s activities on the day of the riot, Wray said, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be discussing whether or not we’re … investigating specific individuals.”