FBI director testifies on Capitol riot security failures

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 2:48 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021
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11:04 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

FBI director: Some insurrectionists were "racially motivated violent extremists" advocating White supremacy

Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin asked FBI director Christopher Wray if he agreed that White supremacists and other violent extremists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Wray said the bureau is seeing "quite a number of what would we call militia violent extremists" as the FBI builds its cases agains the rioters. He specifically mentioned the groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

He added that they have seen in their investigations instances of "racially motivated violent extremists" who advocate for White supremacy.

"One of the things that is happening as part of this is that as we build out the cases on the individuals when we arrest them for the violence, we're getting a richer and richer understanding of the different people's motivations," he said. "But certainly as I said, militia violent extremism and some instances of racially motivated violent extremism, especially advocating for the superior of the white race."

Wray also noted that during his tenure as FBI director, he's seen a growth in the number of investigations related to racially motivated violent extremism.

"When it comes to racially motivated violent extremism, the number of investigations and number of arrests has grown significantly on my watch. And the number of arrests for example of racially motivated violent extremists who are what you would categorize as White supremacists last year, was almost triple the number it was in my first year as director," Wray said.

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10:54 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Domestic terrorism has been "metastasizing across the country for a long time now," FBI director says

Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray pushed back on claims that his agency has not been tackling domestic terrorism, saying in his opening statement today that the FBI has been "sounding the alarm" for a "number of years now."

"Unfortunately, as you noted, Mr. Chairman, January 6th was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it is not going is a way any time soon," Wray said.

"At the FBI we've been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now. I've been sounding the alarm about domestic terrorism since I think just about my first month on the job when I first started appearing up on the hill and I've spoken about it, and in maybe a dozen different congressional hearings, so whenever we've had the chance we've tried to emphasize this is a top concern and remains so for the FBI," Wray said.

The FBI director noted that his agency viewed this as such a "critical threat," that back in June of 2019 it elevated "racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism to our highest threat priority" at the same level with "with ISIS and home grown violent extremism."

"Let me make one thing clear, the FBI will not tolerate agitators and extremists who plan or commit violence, period. And that goes for a violent extremists of any stripe," Wray told lawmakers. "As I've said many times, we do not investigate ideology, but we focus on acts of violence and violations of federal law. And when we see those, when we see those, we will bring to bear the full weight of our resources, our experience and our partnerships." 

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10:35 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Where things stand in the Jan. 6 investigation, according to the the FBI director

Pool
Pool

FBI Director Christopher Wray opened his testimony on Capitol Hill today by stating that the bureau views the attack on Jan. 6 as "domestic terrorism."

He said the behavior that day by the rioters was "criminal" and has "no place in our democracy." Wray added that "tolerating" the actions of those who sieged the Capitol "would make a mockery of our nation's rule of law."

Here's where the FBI director said things stand with the Jan. 6 investigation:

  • People have sent the FBI more than 270,000 digital media tips.
  • The FBI has opened hundreds of investigations in all but one of their 56 field offices around the country.
  • The FBI has arrested more than 270 people to date and more than 300 when you include the FBI's partner agencies, Wray said.
10:44 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

The FBI director is testifying now. Here's what you need to know about his role in the riot investigation.

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Kevin Liptak and Caroline Kelly

FBI Director Christoper Wray's team of federal investigators is currently chasing thousands of leads in twin efforts to prosecute people involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and to try to prevent feared follow-up attacks in Washington and around the country.

Law enforcement officials have indicated to CNN that authorities missed key signs ahead of the siege, which left five dead and the Capitol ransacked, and the FBI's preparations leading up to the day of the attack on the Capitol have come under scrutiny.

The Washington Post reported in January that the FBI warned of a violent "war" at the US Capitol in an internal report issued a day before the deadly siege, but it wasn't acted on urgently enough to prevent the domestic terrorist attack.

During the transition, President Biden signaled his plan to keep Christoper Wray on board— if he wasn't fired first by former President Trump. Like all FBI directors, Wray has a 10-year term. Wray was appointed by Trump in 2017 and faced criticism from the ex-president on a number of issues.

Trump made little attempt to veil his disdain for Wray, who many of Trump's allies have suggested to him is doing little to stamp out what they view as rampant corruption at the FBI. He complained privately that Wray refuses to rebuke his predecessor James Comey, has chastised those who recommended him for the job and has said he would love to replace him.

Wray had no reason to think he wasn't on solid footing with the new Biden administration — despite the fact that White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not answer on Wednesday when asked if Biden had confidence in Wray.

"I have not spoken within him about specifically FBI Director Wray in recent days," Psaki said, "but I'll circle back if there's more to convey."

Psaki followed up on Jan. 21, tweeting: "I caused an unintentional ripple yesterday so wanted to state very clearly President Biden intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing."

10:26 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Committee chair slams FBI director for agency's response to threats from White supremacy groups 

Pool
Pool

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, opened today's hearing by calling the Jan. 6 insurrection a "tragic and harrowing day."

Durbin went on to introduce a montage of footage from the Capitol riot.

"The hate on display that terrible day is not a new phenomenon in our country. America's first domestic terror organization, the Ku klux Klan was born in the aftermath of the civil war to terrorize African Americans," Durbin said.

"The insurrectionists who stormed on January 6th did not wear white robes and hoods. They might as well have. They have the latest incarnation of violent white supremacist movements that has terrorized fellow Americans on basis of race, and religion and national origin for more than 150 years," he continued.

The Democrat slammed FBI director Christopher Wray for his agency's response to White supremacy and possible threats.

"I led multiple letters to Attorney General Barr and to you asking the steps that were taken by the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat the growing threat of White supremacist violence. I'm still awaiting the response. Meanwhile, the threat posed by domestic terrorists and in particular White supremacists and other far-right extremists has only continued to grow," Durbin said.

Durbin called for unity in Congress to combat the threats of domestic terrorism.

"We need to be clear that the White supremacist and other extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today. I hope everyone in this room could look at facts and acknowledge this and we could come together on a bipartisan basis to defeat this threat," Durbin said. 

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10:02 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

The hearing just began. Here's what you need to know about today's testimony. 

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

The Senate hearing with FBI Director Chris Wray just began in the chamber's Judiciary Committee.

Wray will finally have to answer questions about the Jan. 6 insurrection. Today marks his first public testimony since the deadly riot occurred nearly two months ago.

The hearing will also be Wray's first public appearance since the White House announced in January that he will not be replaced as FBI director after serving in the same role under former President Trump.

Wray's team of federal investigators is currently chasing thousands of leads in twin efforts to prosecute people involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and to try to prevent feared follow-up attacks in Washington and around the country.

While federal law enforcement officials have sought to reassure the American public in the months since the riot that they are up to the task on both fronts, their public remarks also lay bare the enormity of the challenge they face in tracking potential threats to not only the nation's capital, but across the country.

Read more about today's hearing here.

9:51 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

The FBI director will be grilled soon on intelligence breakdowns that happened during the riot

 From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Whitney Wild and Marshall Cohen

Today's Senate hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray follows another round of hearings that took place on Capitol Hill last week with former and current law enforcement officials about the security failures surrounding Jan. 6.

Law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week that they were prepared for the possibility of limited violence on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, but the intelligence available ahead of time did not warn of a coordinated attack like the insurrection that overwhelmed officers and led to multiple casualties.

"The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong," former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told two Senate committees at the first open hearing on the Capitol riot last Tuesday.

Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving testified that intelligence assessments before the Jan. 6 attack incorrectly concluded that there was only a "remote" to "improbable" chance of a civil disturbance that day, according to prepared testimony.

Sen. Gary Peters revealed that an FBI report containing "troubling" information was given to US Capitol Police headquarters on the eve of Jan. 6 but never made it to the department's leadership, a breakdown the Michigan Democrat said is "clearly a major problem."

"How can you not get that vital intelligence on the eve of what's going to be a major event?" Peters asked.

Sund responded that the information was "coming in as raw data," though he acknowledged the information would have been helpful.

"I agree that's something we need to look at. What's the process and how do we streamline?" he said.

Sund added that the report prompted Capitol Police to discuss its plans with Metropolitan Police and expand its perimeter for the event, though he also said that the expansion was already underway.

Last week's hearing, was the the first time Americans were listening in full on why intelligence and operations failed dramatically on Jan. 6 from the very people whose choices contributed to the crisis.

Wray is expected to be grilled in today's Senate hearing about these intelligence failures and missteps, including why the FBI report did not prompt more action.

9:40 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Committee chair lays out the key questions he plans to ask FBI Director Wray today

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, spoke to reporters yesterday ahead of FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying this morning, saying “there are many questions” for the director, particularly as “the head of the FBI has not appeared before the committee for an oversight hearing since July of 2019.”

“There are threats to America today that we need to put in as a priority,” Durbin told reporters. “I think domestic terrorism, religious and racial based hate groups have become a major threat in America. I want to know if our intelligence operations have taken this into consideration in establishing their priorities. 

The Illinois Democrat said other Capitol riot-related questions he thinks are important to get answers to include: “What did he know and when did he know it and who did he tell? Those are questions that have been raised in other hearings. But he is the man of the hour. As head of the FBI, I think he has a special position, place, to answer the question.”

On the Judiciary Committee’s domestic terrorism investigation, Durbin said, “We're trying to get to the very basic question, is it a threat? (I believe it is). If so, what are we doing about it. Are putting the resources in the right place? Are we building up defenses to what these groups are now doing as they're organizing across the country.”

He noted there would be a separate hearing on this.

9:34 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Capitol Police chief warned militia groups want to "blow up the Capitol" when Biden addresses Congress

From CNN's  Zachary Cohen, Marshall Cohen and Whitney Wild

FBI director Christopher Wray is expected to be grilled today in the Senate on the Capitol riot, and possible follow-up attacks.

Acting US Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman warned last Thursday that militia groups involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection want to "blow up the Capitol" and "kill as many members as possible" when President Biden addresses Congress.

Pressed by House lawmakers to provide a timeline for removing the razorwire fencing and other enhanced security measures installed after the US Capitol attack, Pittman said law enforcement remains concerned about threats by known militia groups "with a direct nexus to the State of the Union" address.

"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified," she told House lawmakers during last Thursday's hearing on security failures related to January 6.

"We know that the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol weren't only interested in attacking members of Congress and officers," she added. "They wanted to send a symbolic message to the nation as to who is in charge of that legislative process."

Pittman's comments marked one of the first times law enforcement officials publicly cited specific threats against the Capitol and lawmakers related to Biden's expected address before a joint session of Congress.

Biden's administration is considering an address to a joint session of Congress later this year, though a specific date hasn't been identified.