Law enforcement officials warn of new Capitol threat

Law enforcement officials are warning lawmakers about a new threat against the Capitol on March 4. The warning came on the same day that the head of the D.C. National Guard testified about why it took so long for Guard troops to be deployed to Capitol Hill on January 6. Jacqueline Alemany, a political reporter for the Washington post and author of the Power Up newsletter, discusses the precautions being taken against this new threat and how lawmakers responded to testimony about the January 6 attack.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: Law enforcement officials are warning of a new domestic terror threat against the US Capitol. An FBI intelligence bulletin says groups have "discussed plans to take control of the Capitol as soon as Thursday and are targeting Democratic lawmakers." US Capitol Police say they have evidence of a possible plot by a militia group to launch an attack in the next 24 hours. The House has since canceled votes for Thursday due to the threat.

The head of the D.C. National Guard also testified on Wednesday. He explained why it took so long for troops to respond to the January 6 attack. CBS News Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues has the latest.

JEFF PEGUES: Tonight, the capital locking down, again, ahead of more threats from domestic extremists, including many who attacked the building on January 6. This new bulletin obtained by CBS News warns of more violence with little or no warning. The threat is driven by a QAnon conspiracy theory that former President Trump will be inaugurated tomorrow, March 4. The acting chief of the US Capitol Police said threats against lawmakers have almost doubled in the last year.

- We know that the threats are through the roof.

JEFF PEGUES: The bulletin also mentions militia plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers. One group the FBI is warning about is the Three Percenters, an anti-government group. Some of whom were arrested after the capital assault and seen here in this training video. Security around the Capitol is being fortified because of the threats with more police on duty, and the National Guard will maintain its presence.

- We have enhanced our security posture.

- You better run, cops.

JEFF PEGUES: Meanwhile, law enforcement continues to face tough questions about failures in the response to the insurrection, including why it took so long for the National Guard to respond. The guard's D.C. commander blamed inaction by the Pentagon.

- The army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd.

JEFF PEGUES: Extremists have called March 4, the true inauguration day. It'll be another real test for law enforcement, which is still trying to grapple with how to confront domestic terrorists. Lana?

LANA ZAK: Jeff, thank you. For more, I'm joined now by Jacqueline Alemany, a political reporter for the Washington Post and author of the Power Up newsletter. Jacqueline, it's great to have you.

So General William Walker, the Commanding Officer of the D.C. National Guard, told lawmakers that Pentagon leadership hindered his ability to quickly deploy troops the day before the January 6 attack. He said it was bad optics. Anything more that we have learned about why this would have prevented, as you heard Jeff say, that they were worried that it might incite violence?

JACQUELINE ALEMANY: Yeah, Lana, I think we heard some especially revealing testimony today that seemed to offer contradictory testimony to what we are hearing from the Pentagon leading lawmakers to call on those Pentagon officials directly to come before these two Senate committees to continue this investigation. But what we saw here was Walker testify that it took three hours and 19 minutes for the Pentagon to approve of military aid and to deploy his troops, the National Guard to help secure the situation as a pro-Trump riot, as a pro-Trump mob breached security on Capitol Hill. You had Pentagon officials trying to challenge that account, saying that they were ready to go and that there must have been a communication mishap, that it actually wasn't the Pentagon delaying things. Regardless, there seems to be some differing testimonies here, and now, lawmakers are calling for former acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to answer questions about their roles in driving the events of that day.

LANA ZAK: And we also heard General Walker compare troop requests during the riots with requests for troops during the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. What were the inconsistencies that he pointed out?

JACQUELINE ALEMANY: Yeah, you know, that is an event that, I think, most Americans saw play out in real time over the summer as the National Guard and the president himself oversaw the National Guard use a show of force to break up the Black Lives Matters protests that we saw, these peaceful protests, mind you, outside the White House. We saw a dramatic, different handling of the riot and the insurrection that played out on Capitol Hill on January 6. In theory, I think one could understand that maybe the National Guard would approach this differently after the amount of blowback that they received. You know, if you want to talk about from an optics perspective what this looks like, it certainly doesn't bode well for the Pentagon, picking and choosing who they decide to employ a show of force on, especially as it threatens the lives of lawmakers, reporters, and all of those present at the Capitol that day, and resulted in the death of five people.

LANA ZAK: So Jackie, let's talk about this new threat, because Capitol Police have been Warning lawmakers about a possible plot to breach the Capitol on March 4. What can you tell us about this new threat and what precautions are being taken?

JACQUELINE ALEMANY: Yeah, it certainly is a startling announcement, you know, as you're seeing senators in real time still reckon with the security lapses that happened on January 6 during those testimonies actually get security bulletins alerting them that there is a new threat of domestic terrorism that is poised to hit Capitol Hill tomorrow potentially. The details are vague. The FBI in coordination with DHS and US Capitol Police aren't releasing all that many details.

But what we do know is that there is an extremist plot potentially. It's viewed as more aspirational, and it's with regards to this date of March 4. It's a significant date for QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe that it's the day that Trump will be inaugurated for a second term as president, and I have to repeat, this is a conspiracy theory.

These are baseless rumors that are circulating on the internet amongst QAnon and pro-Trump adherents. But regardless, you know, the FBI, and DHS security, and intel have picked up on communications, encouraging these adherents to storm the Capitol, once more, tomorrow through the weekend. That's why you're seeing now law enforcement agencies and the sergeant at arms scramble to address this and amp up the security on Capitol Hill. You have the House actually call off their session for tomorrow. It's unclear what the Senate's going to do, but they are trying to take this threat far more seriously than we saw last time around on January 6.

LANA ZAK: Yeah, it's interesting seeing sessions being canceled, especially since the COVID relief bill is still awaiting lawmakers final approval. And President Biden has agreed to a new concession. He said, he would limit eligibility for those $1,400 stimulus payments after pressure from more moderate Democrats. Explain to us the changes. And given all that's happening at the Capitol, when could we see this bill, finally, pass both chambers, and people start to get those stimulus checks?

JACQUELINE ALEMANY: That's a really good question, and I'm not sure that President Biden could have predicted this potential wrench in the schedule at hand. Unemployment insurance expires on March 14, so that's the date that Democratic lawmakers really want to get this done. So there's not a benefits cliff that Americans fall off of during the coronavirus pandemic that has hit so many Americans so hard. But what you saw today was the president agree to narrow the eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks, lowering the threshold for people who can qualify for those checks, and that was really giving in to the calls from more moderate centrist senators, like Joe Manchin, who is essentially running the Senate, at this point, with a 50-50 split, is wielding his influence to the max.

There were also some other centrist senators, though, like Senator Hassin and Shaheen, who also had called for more narrow and targeted relief. But there was quite a bit of blowback today that Biden has, in turn, cut off relief to millions of Americans who would have otherwise qualified for it, but there were some other concessions made. Unemployment insurance is now extended through the end of August along with state aid, $350 billion. That is going to be distributed to the states to help them provide relief to their constituents.

LANA ZAK: It is interesting to see how much power those moderate Democrats and Republicans are currently wielding in this sharply divided Senate. All right, Jacqueline, thank you.

JACQUELINE ALEMANY: Thanks.