Internal watchdog to probe how Justice Department prepared before Capitol riots

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
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Sarah N. Lynch and Brad Heath
·3 min read
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By Sarah N. Lynch and Brad Heath

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department's internal watchdog will review how the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies prepared and responded to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump's supporters, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said on Friday.

The inquiry will be coordinated with other federal agencies whose law enforcement arms were also involved in responding to the Jan. 6 assault, including the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and Department of the Interior.

The review comes after many media outlets, including Reuters, reported that the FBI office in Norfolk, Virginia, circulated a bulletin a day before the events at the Capitol warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and "war."

A law enforcement source who spoke anonymously to Reuters said the bulletin was widely circulated among law enforcement agencies planning for possible demonstrations on Jan. 6, but it was considered to be "raw open source" material, meaning it was not validated by the FBI or other government investigators.

Steven D'Antuono, the FBI's Assistant Director in Charge of the Washington field office, previously told reporters the bureau was aware of the memo and did take steps to address intelligence gathered ahead of the Capitol riots.

At the same time, however, d'Antuono said the FBI could not take action based on mere social media chatter, due to First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

"We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the Internet are just practicing keyboard bravado, or they actually have the intent to do harm."

"IT'S YOUR HOUSE NOW"

Horowitz's announcement on Friday did not mention whether the Capitol Police inspector general's office will participate, and Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Capitol Police have come scrutiny for being ill-prepared to deal with the throngs of Trump supporters who stormed the building last week.

In some videos posted on social media, police also appeared to be overly friendly with rioters, with one even taking a selfie with people as they illegally entered the building.

On Jan. 11, the acting Capitol Police chief announced that its Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating several officers who had been suspended and could face discipline or termination.

The Justice Department has already filed charges against more than 80 people in connection with the riots.

Some of the court filings have offered a window into questionable behavior or a lack of preparedness by law enforcement.

In one case, prosecutors wrote that one officer was left to single-handedly confront a group of 25 rioters on the Senate floor. The officer asked to borrow a bullhorn from one of them so he could ask the crowd to leave.

In another sworn statement, suspects Robert Bauer and his cousin Edward Hemenway told the FBI they were greeted with a welcome and a hug when he stormed the Capitol.

"According to Bauer, the police officer grabbed his hand, shook it, and said, “It’s your house now,'" the statement says, noting the officer may have acted out of fear.

"Hemenway similarly recalled the officer shaking Hemenway's hand and Hemenway said, 'Sorry,' to which the officer replied, 'It’s your house now, man,' and gave Hemenway a half-hug."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Brad Heath; with additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Aurora Ellis)