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FBI director defends handling of intelligence on Capitol riot, says white supremacists pose biggest domestic terror threat

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FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the bureau's handling of intelligence prior to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Wray also said racially motivated violent extremists pose the greatest domestic terror threat. CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge joins "Red and Blue" anchor Elaine Quiijano with more on his testimony and an update on the investigation into the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: FBI Director Christopher Wray is defending his bureau's handling of intelligence before the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Wray argued that the FBI did, in fact, warn other law enforcement agencies about the threat level the day before the riot. He added that an unverified intelligence report was even shared with the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: And the information was raw, it was unverified. In a perfect world, we would have taken longer to be able to figure out whether it was reliable. But we made the judgment. Our folks made the judgment to get that information to the relevant people as quickly as possible. Like I said, three different ways, in order to leave as little as possible to chance. I didn't see the report myself even until after the 6th. But the way in which it handled, at least as I understand it, strikes me as consistent with our normal process.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So far, more than 300 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Insurrection. When asked about the ongoing danger posed by homegrown extremists, director Wray said this about the most dangerous threat.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Racially motivated violent extremism specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the White race, is a persistent evolving threat. It's the biggest chunk of our racially-motivated violent extremism cases for sure. And racially-motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall. I will also say that the same group of people we're talking about have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last, say decade.

ELAINE QUIJANO: For more, let's bring in CBS News senior investigative correspondent, Catherine Herridge. Hi there, Catherine. So what exactly is a situational information report? And what a Director Wray have to say about why it had not been made, or has not been made public?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Elaine, a situational information report in law enforcement-speak, they talk about an SIR. And this is a piece of raw intelligence. You can think of it kind of like a data miner alert. It's raw information that you haven't independently verified, but it's important enough that in this case, it was pushed out by the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia on the evening of January 5.

And today the FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that it went out in three different ways. One was via email to something called the Joint Terrorism Task Force. That is the JTTF. It's like a fusion center with local, state, and federal officials. In this case, it also included the Capitol Police, and the DC police. So they had access to it via email. Then he said there was a verbal briefing at one of the command posts. And then lastly, he said it was posted to a law enforcement portal online for which there is national access.

What he didn't say, is that somebody actually picked up the phone and said, this could be important information relating to January 6. It's a single thread. It's unverified, but it's warning that people who go to the Capitol should be, quote, "ready for war." And that, I think, is what left lawmakers today somewhat aghast, if you will, because that would seem to be a common sense step to take given what the security posture was already here in Washington.

ELAINE QUIJANO: I mean, Catherine, I'm just wondering if part of the challenge here is just sort of sifting through the volume of data and information that people are now, because of technology, able to collect on multiple fronts. That perhaps wasn't necessarily the case 20 years ago about the possible potential threats that are out there.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, this is, I think, perhaps one of the greatest challenges for federal law enforcement, is that they're really is, I've said it before with you, this tsunami of information, especially through social media. And as Director Wray testified today, it's hard to know who's just aspirational. So who's thinking about violence and who actually has the tools to carry out a violent act.

But all of that being said, what I've heard from my law enforcement contacts, is that there has developed a culture in some circles where there's almost the sharing of information. So then it makes it even more complicated to understand what really ought to have your attention and what really can be dismissed. And I think the greatest sort of challenge in this particular case is that you had a raw piece of intelligence, it was not a finished product, which is sort of a higher threshold in terms of credibility, and it came after hours on the night before the January 6 rally that ultimately led to these riots.

So timing was a problem. And I just go back to this very simple idea of someone actually picking up the phone and saying, hey, I think this could be important in light of what you're expecting tomorrow. So it's disappointing in that respect.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Catherine, at Tuesday hearing, opening remarks from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley gave voice to what a number of Republicans have said, that the threat of left wing radical groups, like Antifa, is understated. What did Director Wray say about that?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, this was really the first time I think I've heard Director Wray delineate the status of what appear to be criminal investigations into the violence that occurred last summer in Seattle, and also in Portland, Oregon. He said that there are ongoing investigations into the tactics, the logistics, the coordination, and the financing of that violence.

But what you know even just looking through the court record, is that we have not seen the same sort of tempo of activity in terms of bringing criminal cases there as we have seen for the January 6 riots. But again, they're kind of apples and oranges. But what we heard from Director Wray, is that they are also, the violence from last summer is also being investigated by the Bureau.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, there are lingering questions about the death of officer Brian Sicknick from injuries he sustained during the capital riot. Did we learn anything new, Catherine, about the events surrounding his death?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, we learned a little something, which is that the FBI director said that because of the nature of the ongoing investigation into Officer Sicknick's death, he could not disclose or confirm what they knew about the cause of death. But I think you need to see this in a broader context. It was just on Friday that we confirmed here at CBS News that in recent days, the FBI has come into possession of a video that was taken inside the Capitol complex on the day of the riots.

And they were able to blow up that video and get a really clear facial shot of an individual who could be seen in the video calling for the use of bear spray, and then apparently using bear spray on a large group of individuals. And it was described to me by a law enforcement source as a key suspect of interest in Sicknick's investigation. And also, whether the bear spray was a contributing factor to Sicknick's death.

What has my attention though, is that we're now several days past Friday and there hasn't been a public release of that image by the FBI. And I understand there's a pretty significant internal debate as to the merits of doing that. And if it does happen, to what extent the individual should be tied to the Sicknick case.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right, we know you will continue to watch it. So much to sort through. As always, we thank you. Catherine Herridge, thanks.