FBI director Chris Wray to face his first grilling on MAGA riot

FBI Director Chris Wray was testifying for the first time since the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin called violent white supremacist violence and domestic terrorism ‘the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.’ 

The Senate Judiciary hearing began with a dramatic video presentation including comments from Capitol Police officers who battled rioters, complete with images of confederate flags and white supremacist paraphernalia among rioters. 

‘The hate on display that terrible day is not a new phenomenon in our country, said Durbin (D-Illinois), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, at the start of the hearing.

‘I was appalled like you at the violence and destruction that we saw that day,’ he told senators.

‘The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away any time soon,’ said Wray.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified for the first time since the January 6th MAGA riot Tuesday. He called the attack a form of ‘domestic terrorism’

Wray told lawmakers federal agents have made more than 270 arrests since January 6th, with 270,000 digital media tips from Americans.

‘Some have even taken the painful step of turning in their friends or their family members,’ he said. 

Durbin asked Wray if he had seen any evidence of online conspiracy theories that rioters, many clad in pro-Trump gear, were ‘fake’ Trump supporters carrying out a false flag operation.

‘We have not seen evidence of that,’ Wray testified. 

Wray also spoke about a ‘raw’ threat warning from the FBI’s Norfolk field office that was sent the night before the riot warning of plans for ‘war’ on the Capitol.

He addressed a comment from the head of D.C. police that the warning deserved a phone call, not just an email.

Wray said it was communicated through an email to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. He also said it was transmitted ‘verbally through the command post briefing that we had,’ as well as through a nationwide law enforcement portal.

‘I didn’t see the report myself even until after the 6th,’ he said.

Durbin’s counterpart, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, gave a hint of how the hearing might break down on partisan lines when he repeatedly referenced summer protests as well as violence and vandalism at government buildings in Portland.

‘We’re not serious about tackling domestic extremism if we care about some government buildings being attacked, but not others,’ he said. 

Grassley expressed surprise at violent antifa demonstrations at Democratic Party headquarters in Oregon the day President Joe Biden was sworn in.

‘You’d think the results of the election ought to satisfy ’em,’ Grassley said.

‘We don’t want Biden. We want revenge for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres,’ read a banner demonstrators held up during the march where the vandalism occurred.  

Questions about the FBI’s preparations for the riot, and investigations into it, are expected to dominate Wray’s appearance Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s also likely to be pressed on how the FBI is confronting the national security threat from white nationalists and domestic violent extremists and whether the bureau has adequate resources to address the problem.

The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcement agency that revolutionized itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deal with international terrorism is now scrambling to address homegrown violence from white Americans. President Joe Biden’s administration has tasked his national intelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat.

Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, is seen at the Capital riots

Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, is seen at the Capital riots

Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified about a warning the FBI sent up from the FBI's Norfolk field office the day before the Capitol riot

Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified about a warning the FBI sent up from the FBI’s Norfolk field office the day before the Capitol riot

Wray has kept a notably low profile since a violent mob of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol two months ago. Though he has briefed lawmakers privately and shared information with local law enforcement hearings, Tuesday’s oversight hearing will mark Wray’s first public appearance before Congress since before November’s presidential election.

The FBI is facing questions over how it handled intelligence in the days ahead of the riot and whether warnings it had of potential violence reached the correct officials.

Last week, for instance, the acting chief of the Capitol Police said a Jan. 5 report from the FBI made its way to investigators within the police force and to the department´s intelligence unit but was never sent up the chain of command. The report warned about concerning online posts foreshadowing a ‘war’ in Washington the following day. The FBI has said the report, which it says was based on uncorroborated information, was shared through its joint terrorism task force.

Wray may also face questions about the FBI’s investigation into the massive Russian hack of corporations and U.S. government agencies, which happened when elite hackers injected malicious code into a software update. 

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