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What we learned from national security officials at hearings on Capitol assault

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Several top U.S. intelligence, military and security officials testified before a joint Senate committee hearing on the breakdown of communication surrounding the January 6th attack on the Capitol. CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge and former California Representative Jane Harman joined CBSN to explain the major takeaways from the hearing.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: The Senate Rules Committee and the Homeland Security Committee held a joint hearing Wednesday continuing the investigation into the attack on the Capitol on January 6. Several US security and intelligence officials testified before the Committee on the breakdown of communication between agencies. But the most shocking comments may have come from commanding general of the DC National Guard, Major General William Walker. He says the Pentagon stopped him from being able to immediately deploy the guard to help secure the Capitol. He had this to say about the timeline.

WILLIAM WALKER: Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol. And he requested the immediate assistance of as many available national guardsmen that I could muster. Immediately after that 149 call, I alerted the US army senior leadership of the request. The approval for Chief Sund's request would eventually come from the acting secretary of defense and be relayed to me by army senior leaders at 5:08 PM, about 3 hours and 19 minutes later.

TANYA RIVERO: Joining me now is CBS News Senior Investigative Correspondent, Catherine Herridge. Hi, Catherine. Great to see you. So why is Major General Walker's testimony important in understanding what happened on the ground on January 6? And how does it possibly contradict the timeline provided by the Defense Department?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well he's important, Tanya, because he's right at the center, sort of the nexus of all of the decision-making leading up to and then on the day that critical window between 1:00 and 3:30 on January 6. He's also important because I think what the testimony has further illuminated today is what comes down to a very dysfunctional command and control structure and especially a decision-making process when it goes to Capitol Hill, the Sergeant at Arms, this Capitol Hill Board that includes the architect of the Capitol, that is very archaic. And these systems were not able to respond quickly, to be flexible, and to be agile when that was necessary on the day.

Now in terms of the discrepancies, shortly after the January 6 riots, the acting secretary of defense and his chief of staff released a public timeline that was documented by the executive secretary in the Defense Department. And according to that timeline, at 3:04 that afternoon there was verbal approval from the then acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, to fully deploy the National Guard as it was required. And then later that afternoon at 4:32 to repurpose the National Guard so that it could move from what was a crowd control and traffic control function to more of a crowd control, riot control function at the Capitol itself.

So conflict between what was said back in January, now the testimony. But I think it all comes down to this essential question that we heard from Senator Klobuchar that this command and control structure was essentially dysfunctional and not up to the task of quick and effective decision-making at the middle of those riots on the 6th.

TANYA RIVERO: Which was so necessary on that day.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: So necessary.

TANYA RIVERO: Catherine, Senators early on were making a clear distinction between the Capitol response during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and the protests on January 6. Why is that distinction important here?

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: I think it's extremely important. And during the testimony today we heard a new detail, at least it was new to me as I listened to my ear. And they said that the recommendation from the Secretary of the Army, and I believe it was also his chief of staff to the National Guard, was that they should take on a function where they would relieve or replace the DC police. And then the DC police would move up to Capitol Hill to further reinforce the Capitol Hill Police to deal with the rioters who were breaching the Capitol because they did not like-- we hear this word a lot during the hearings-- they did not like the optics of having a line of National Guard at the Capitol, also suggesting they thought it would further inflame the protesters.

And the reason that's important is because it takes us back to last summer when it was controversial, to say the least, and a lot of good criticism of the National Guard and its use during the Black Lives Matter protests. So that is why we're having this fulsome discussion of these different perspectives and how politics really inserted itself, I believe, based on the testimony into important security questions.

TANYA RIVERO: And Catherine, we heard DHS Acting Director of Intelligence and Analysis, Melissa Smislova say the agency did not have anything specific, any specific intelligence about an attack on the Capitol. How does this compare with what CBS News has learned following the attack?

WILLIAM WALKER: It comes back, again, to this January 5 situational information report out of Norfolk, Virginia. And the FBI office received or identified a single thread that was posted on one of these internet message boards talking about protesters going to the Capitol and being, quote, "ready for war." And they said it was raw intelligence. It had not been verified. It was not considered credible at that time. But it was significant enough that they pushed it out to these joint terrorism task forces. It went out via email. It was verbally briefed. And then it went on a law enforcement portal that has national access.

But again, you heard from Senator Klobuchar and others, if it was that important, why was not someone picking up the phone to cut through all the noise to say this could be important to changing your security posture on the day of these rallies that preceded the violent breach of the Capitol. And then also-- and I say this as someone who was in Washington DC-- you really only had to open your eyes around the city to see that businesses were shutting down. They were putting plywood up on their windows. People were anticipating violence during that period. You didn't need, frankly, an intelligence bulletin to tell you that that may be in the works.

So that, I think, is this very unsettling disconnect between the intelligence reporting that was available and was disseminated, the failure to effectively underscore its importance the night before, the riots January 6, and then I think what was obvious to people here in this city based on the closure of the businesses, using the plywood to protect the windows. So it's hard to get your mind around why there was this lack of imagination that these rioters would act out in a very violent way, maybe targeting other groups on the day, but how it could easily spill over into something much larger, which ultimately it did.

TANYA RIVERO: It is truly hard to understand how that wasn't foreseen. I do want to bring in former Democratic California Representative Jane Harman now. She served as an Intelligence Committee ranking member. Jane, welcome. Thank you for joining us. How do these committees navigate an investigation that is seemingly partisan due to the involvement of former President Trump's supporters?

JANE HARMAN: Well, let me say hello, first, to my good friend, Catherine Herridge.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Yes. Hello.

JANE HARMAN: Her reporting is superb. She knows tons about this subject. So lucky you that she's there. Can't resist that.

TANYA RIVERO: Thank you. We are very lucky.

JANE HARMAN: Sadly, the Congress I left-- and it is a major reason why I left Congress in 2011 to head the Wilson Center-- has become toxically partisan. And especially on the House side, the House Intel Committee, is able to do a few things but this is not on-- these controversial big things are not too good. And what we're hearing now is this effort to tell the real story, and then the effort to tell the unreal story. And people don't know what narratives to believe, and their narrative is amplified in social media.

And what's horrifying, as Catherine said, is that there were warnings. There may not have been intelligence that was blinking red a day ahead, but there was intelligence. And there was a chance to circulate it in a more effective way. And there was a chance to mount a far more of a police presence on the Hill. And the warnings were, sadly, ignored for optics or for whatever set of reasons. And this was a tragedy.

As someone who was physically in Congress on 9/11, walking to the dome of the Capitol when we learned that the Pentagon and the two towers in New York had been hit, I remember that day like it was yesterday. And then to watch from Washington but not there a place where I worked for 22 years-- 17 as a member and 5 as a staffer-- be attacked in this way was reliving the nightmare. And if we don't learn lessons now, shame on us.

And we have a huge event coming up, the State of the Union message. And then this March 4 date that are-- I think it's March 4. I forget the day when Trump was supposed to be re-inaugurated. Is that tomorrow? That's tomorrow? Oh, my God.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: You're correct. Four to six.

JANE HARMAN: Here we are. So I'm just saying--

TANYA RIVERO: Jane, I also want to tell our viewers that you were the author of "Insanity Defense-- Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe." So you are the perfect person to talk about this. Which national security problems do you think are the most pressing right now that we are now confronting?

JANE HARMAN: One of the chapters in my book, I mean, I lived through three decades post-cold war, part in Congress and part as head of the Wilson Center, which is a marvelous living memorial to our 20th president in Washington. And I saw this movie. And what was this movie? The Cold War ends, and we declare a peace dividend. And we fail to recognize that the world becomes more dangerous. And then 9/11 happens. I was just talking about it.

And we over-militarize our response, and we don't deal with very hard problems-- that's what the book is about-- like surveillance and detention. We set up Guantanamo Bay outside the reach of US law, except it isn't. The Supreme Court decided that it isn't. We have the hard core high value targets from 9/11 still there, unable really to be effectively tried. And we have black eyes all over the place. And we have Congress shying away from playing the big role it used to play because it doesn't want to own problems.

And we have an assertion of executive power-- not just on Trump's watch, but on Bush 43's watch and even on Obama's watch-- that cut out Congress. We just had an attack in Syria, which I think was a proportionate attack. But Congress was advised 15 minutes ahead. And the institutions of Congress that should have been notified weren't. So that's what my book is about. There are fixes for this, but focusing on this problem, it's extremely clear to me that we have to do better in the short term.

TANYA RIVERO: Very pressing. Well, Jane Harman and Catherine Herridge, thanks to you both. I could talk to you about this all day. Fascinating. Thank you for joining us.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Thank you.

JANE HARMAN: Thank you.