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Rosen and the FBI on January 6

In anticipation of January 6, acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen pre-deployed 500 FBI and Justice Department troops to Capitol Hill.

Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Wikimedia Commons

In “The Capitol Riot: The Road to January 6,” Newsweek’s wall-to-wall January 6 coverage this week, one article stood out. In an exclusive report on the days leading up to January 6, the journalist writes that three days before things got out of hand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen had prepared to deploy the Justice Department and the FBI to the capitol in anticipation of some sort of attack. Rosen’s actions were, reportedly, unilateral; neither the U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, or any agency issued a formal request for the backup forces.

Per the report:

The contingency units meeting on January 3 included the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, the FBI’s national “Render Safe” team, an FBI SWAT team from the Baltimore Field Office, Special Response Teams from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the U.S. Marshals Service Special Operations Group.

The groups were prepared the weekend prior, and given shoot-to-kill authority, so they could be helicoptered from the FBI Academy in Quantico to the sight of a potential terrorist attack, according to the report.

A week after January 6, 2021, Rosen delivered a video statement on the “Seizure of the U.S. Capitol,” in which he proudly lauded the more than 500 law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals who “rushed to the Capitol” to meet the challenge.

One week ago, our Nation collectively watched in horror as a violent mob stormed the Capitol grounds, broke down crowd control barriers, assaulted Capitol Police Officers, and overran the Capitol complex. Lives were lost. The storming of the Capitol was an intolerable, shocking, and tragic episode in our Nation’s history.

I am grateful, however, that order was restored at the Capitol and the Congress was able to fulfill its duties under the U.S. Constitution. That afternoon, from the Justice Department, more than five hundred law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF and the U.S. Marshals rushed to the Capitol. As I watched the events unfolding, I spoke multiple times with DOJ personnel who were onsite, and coordinated with my counterparts across the government. I also heard from Leaders of both the House and Senate.

In addition, our agents worked with the Capitol police and the Metropolitan police, as well as the other federal, state and local officers who responded on that day to do several things: to neutralize improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), to clear the mob from the Capitol, to search every office for explosives and other dangers, and to return the Chambers to Congress so that they could discharge their duties.

Newsweek’s report is a little different. On the morning of January 6, Newsweek writes that FBI tactical teams arrived on Capitol Hill early in the day to assist with collecting evidence, including at the Republican and Democratic party headquarters, where two pipe bombs were later discovered—rather than rushing to the scene after the action began. (While the bombs have remained a key piece of evidence in the debate over how violent the day’s events actually were, no further information has been made public in the year since about who may have been responsible for placing them.) Moreover, while it seems clear that Rosen’s operative groups ultimately worked with the Capitol police and other police officers on site, their initial presence on site was neither requested nor communicated, according to these new findings.

While much remains unclear, even at this distance, about who was responsible for what on January 6, it seems we can say safely that most partisan accounts are, at best, reductionist. It also raises an important question: With 500 additional troops on the ground, pre-deployed before anything had begun to happen, in addition to Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan police, how on earth did things manage to get out of hand?

about the author

Carmel Richardson is the 2021-2022 editorial fellow at The American Conservative. She received her B.A. from Hillsdale College in political philosophy with a minor in journalism. She firmly believes that the backroads are better than the interstate, and though she currently resides in Northern Virginia, her home state will always be Tennessee.

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