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Senate Panel Hearing Is The 1st To Delve Into Insurrection On Jan. 6

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How were Capitol Police unable to block the insurrection on January 6? Two Senate committees are asking that question today of former security officials, many of whom resigned after the attack. Senator Amy Klobuchar chairs one of the Senate panels holding the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: And we owe it to ourselves, colleagues, to believe enough in our democracy and in the U.S. Senate that despite our political differences, we will be constructive in this hearing today, not just here to make political hay, but be constructive today to figure out what went wrong and what changes we can make.

MARTIN: But those now-former security officials could point right back at lawmakers who were, in effect, their bosses on January 6. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is covering all this and joins us. Claudia, thanks for being here.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So it's the Senate Homeland Security and Rules Committees. Those are the two committees jumpstarting this inquiry. What has transpired thus far.

GRISALES: Well, we're hearing firsthand from these former three top security officials. This is ex-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and his counterpart, ex-Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger. They all resigned after the Capitol attack. I talked to Sund ahead of his testimony today. Let's take a listen.

STEVEN SUND: Well, I'm just there to tell them everything I know about what I knew at the time and all the planning I put in place at the time. So I'm looking forward to it.

GRISALES: And in previous conversations I've had with Sund as well as today, he's defending his actions. He's saying that he was denied backup from the military days before January 6. And he has said in the past that this is because Irving told him there was concerns about optics. He's also telling lawmakers that there is a clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence that led to this breach, and it wasn't poor planning by Capitol Police.

He's also sharing very detailed timelines with lawmakers. And he said that they properly planned for this mass demonstration with possible violence. But what they got was a military-style coordinated assault on officers and a violent takeover. And he notes that an FBI Norfolk intelligence report warning of an attack arrived the night before the riot, but it did not get above the intelligence sergeant's desk for the Capitol Police. And in ending his remarks, he became quite emotional recalling how proud he was to work with the Capitol Police as well.

MARTIN: So that's the ex-Capitol Police chief, Steven Sund. What about the former House and Senate security officials?

GRISALES: Yeah. So Senate security chief Michael Stenger said in his testimony, there's lessons to be learned, that they need to look at the funding of travel for these insurrectionists. But at the same time, when it comes to law enforcement in the Capitol region, that needs to be reviewed, and they need to find out better ways to work together, to coordinate together.

Stenger also said the Capitol siege was a violent, coordinated attack where the loss of life could have been much worse. His counterpart, who was serving at the House at the time - this is Paul Irving - said the events of January 6 shook him to his core, and he was deeply saddened and dismayed at what happened on that tragic day. He says more has to be done to learn lessons from that day, and the changes and improvements to security must be made to ensure it never happens again.

MARTIN: So this hearing, though, isn't just about looking back, right? I mean, speaking of making sure it never happens again, that's the goal. So what do lawmakers say they want to do about security at the Capitol?

GRISALES: Klobuchar told me specifically that they're just at the beginning of this process. They need this information from these officials to start - and others - to figure out what went wrong and formulate a plan on how to fix those concerns. She said in the hearing today that next week they'll call the heads of the Defense Department, the FBI, Homeland Security to testify. And there's more hearings to come in the next couple of months.

MARTIN: I want to switch gears, Claudia, while I've got you and ask about President Biden's - some of his picks for his leadership team, including Merrick Garland, who has pretty much solidified support as the next attorney general. But other nominations are not as solid. Right?

GRISALES: Exactly. Neera Tanden lost support to head the Office of Management and Budget from a conservative moderate Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. So she's going to need some surprise GOP support to survive her nomination. And today, Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee for Health and Human Services, is testifying in a hearing today. But he faces some Republican opposition because of past lawsuits that he has filed against the former Trump administration.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.