Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
- Law enforcement agencies could have prevented the Jan. 6 attack, a committee investigator said.
- Tim Heaphy told NBC News that the FBI and DHS had important intel but failed to act on it.
- The Congressional committee investigating the attack downplayed law enforcement’s role in the riot.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and several other law enforcement agencies had the intelligence necessary to stop the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack before it ever began but failed to take adequate action in time, according to a top insurrection investigator and former federal prosecutor.
Tim Heaphy, who served as chief investigative counsel for the House Select Committee investigating the siege, told NBC News in an exclusive interview this week that the panel ultimately downplayed the agencies’ culpability in its final 845-page report released in December.
Lawmakers who investigated the attack emphatically laid the blame on Donald Trump, outlining how the former president sparked the violent riot with his repeated lies about the 2020 presidential election.
Heaphy told NBC he doesn’t discount the committee’s Trump-centric conclusion, but said the panel failed to stress the outsized role law enforcement played in allowing the insurrection to unfold.
“Law enforcement had a very direct role in contributing to the security failures that led to the violence,” he told the outlet.
It wasn’t a lack of pertinent intelligence that led to violence on Jan. 6, but a failure to respond accordingly to an array of online leads and tips ahead of the attack, according to Heaphy, who cited findings from the committee’s Blue Team, a group of investigators specifically focused on the role of the FBI, DHS, Secret Service, Capitol Police, Department of Defense, and Washington, D.C. police that day.
The Blue Team’s findings were never included in any of the committee’s 10 televised hearings, Heaphy told NBC, and the panel’s final report downplayed the team’s findings, saying law enforcement couldn’t have predicted Trump’s behavior.
But Heaphy told the outlet that investigators cemented several significant findings related to the responding federal agencies on Jan. 6, including that Capitol police didn’t deploy enough officers to defend the building; the FBI and DHS failed to stress the possibility of violence by domestic extremists ahead of the attack; the FBI and DHS avoided using “open source” intelligence on social media out of a “misplaced” fear of violating free speech; the FBI and DHS failed to combine forces and share a joint warning about the threats they were documenting which could have paved the way for a stronger initial defense; and there was general confusion about which federal agency was in charge that day.
The committee encountered “numerous” examples of legitimate intelligence that were either ignored or downplayed ahead of the attack, Heaphy said. Researchers have since found much of it online post-riot, including a Dec. 27, 2020 post on Donald.win, in which a tipster warned of an “attempted coup/terrorist attack on Jan. 6th,” begging officials to “please please take this tip seriously and investigate further,” the outlet reported.
“There’s no question that this was relatively unprecedented,” Heaphy told NBC. “That said, there were plenty of indications that there could be violence, and law enforcement could have and should have done a better job of anticipating that.”
Sources told the outlet that the committee chose to pair down mentions of law enforcement failures in its public presentations in order to keep the focus on Trump. Previous reporting indicated Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chair, in particular, was intent on keeping the panel’s work Trump-heavy.
Neither the FBI nor DHS immediately responded to Insider’s request for comment.