The latest on Biden's inauguration and security threats

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 9:56 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021
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10:34 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

"Like putting gasoline on a fire": States brace for unrest in wake of deadly US Capitol assault

From CNN’s Peter Nickeas

Members of the Washington National Guard surround the Washington State Capitol as the Legislature opens the 2021 session in Olympia, Washington, on January 11.
Members of the Washington National Guard surround the Washington State Capitol as the Legislature opens the 2021 session in Olympia, Washington, on January 11. Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

State capitols across the country are bracing for violence after federal law enforcement officials warned governors and police chiefs about the potential for unrest in the wake of the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, a siege experts say was "like putting gasoline on a fire" and will likely serve as a motivator for future attacks.

The FBI warning that armed protests are being planned in all 50 states in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration has prompted governors and police chiefs to deploy thousands of officers and equipment at state capitols around the country to thwart potential violence.

“The threats are very credible. And you’re coming off a Washington protest that was credible, and let’s just call it 'successful' in the eyes of protesters. It’s going to fuel their confidence that they can continue because we didn’t show 'em we could control 'em,” said Timothy Dimoff, a former SWAT team leader who operates a security consulting company. 

“That’s like putting gasoline on a fire," Dimoff continued. "Now we sent ‘em home and said you guys had a successful game plan and can do it again. That’s where the problem is."

US officials on Wednesday warned of future attacks, in part because of the success of the siege last week. The FBI bulletin noted that extremists could zero in on government officials and institutions, as well as racial and religious minorities, journalists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

It also indicated that the Capitol insurrection may have served as a venue for extremists of differing ideological motivations to foster connections. After the attack, people who descended upon the capitol went home, where a number have since been arrested for their roles in the assault.

John Miller, a deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, called the movement that participated in the attack last week “loosely organized” and noted that people had come together over social media. 

“The propensity of the violence sometimes boils down to the individual,” he said Thursday. “Nothing compares to any past threats; we have never had Americans fighting Americans on the streets of the nation’s capital probably since the civil war.” 

Other motivations that could fuel future attacks include anti-government sentiment held by extremists, as well as grievances associated with the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, according to Wednesday’s bulletin.

“What you see now is a coalescing of the movement,” said Jason Blazakis, who retired from the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism in 2018. He said various extremist groups that had operated alone over the last four years moved in concert during the assault on the Capitol last week.  

“The heave-ho of everyone getting through – you have Oath Keepers next to Proud Boys next to white supremacists, that’s what makes this a dangerous time,” he said. “The movement is energized and they’re emboldened by surprise success on [January] 6th. I think they’re surprised. They didn’t plan to Nth degree, and to be able to breach the pillar of democracy, that’s going to motivate them.” 

10:02 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Prosecutors allege Capitol rioters intended to "capture and assassinate" elected officials

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Donald Trump supporters gathering outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Donald Trump supporters gathering outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors offered the most chilling description yet of rioters who seized the Capitol last week, writing in a new court filing that the intention was "to capture and assassinate elected officials."

The view was included in a detention memo seeking to keep Jacob Anthony Chansley – who rallied people inside the US Capitol using a bullhorn – in detention, according to Capitol Police information included in the filing. Chansley was also notable for his headdress, face paint and carrying of a six-foot spear. 

"Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol and rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government," government prosecutors wrote.

The allegations, written by Justice Department lawyers in Arizona, come as the government have begun describing in more alarming terms what transpired. In a separate case, prosecutors in a Texas court alleged that a retired Air Force reservist, who carried plastic zip tie-like restraints on the Senate floor, may have intended to restrain lawmakers.

Chansley is due in federal court in Arizona on Friday for a detention hearing.

"He loved Trump, every word. He listened to him. He felt like he was answering the call of our president," Chansley’s attorney Al Watkins, told CNN Thursday night. "My client wasn't violent. He didn't cross over any police lines. He didn't assault anyone," Watkins said, adding that Chansley hopes for a presidential pardon.

Prosecutors describe those who took over the Capitol as "insurrectionists" and offer new details about Chansley’s role in the violent siege last week, including that after standing at the dais where Vice President Pence had stood that morning, Chansley wrote a note saying "it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming."

Chansley later told the FBI he did not mean the note as a threat but said the vice president was a "child-trafficking traitor" and went on a long diatribe about Pence, Biden and other politicians as traitors.

Before he was arrested, Chansley told the FBI he wanted to return to Washington for the inauguration to protest. 

Prosecutors accuse Chansley of being a flight risk who can quickly raise money through non-traditional means as "one of the leaders and mascots of QAnon, a group commonly referred to as a cult (which preaches debunked and fictitious anti-government conspiracy theory)." 

They also said Chansley suffers from mental illness and is a regular drug user, according to prosecutors’ detention memo.

 

10:36 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

How some states are preparing for potential armed protests ahead of Biden's inauguration 

From CNN's Eric Levenson and Jon Passantino

States across the country are enhancing security and calling in the National Guard to protect Capitol buildings ahead of the possible protests, including in Georgia, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

A number of states are deploying heavy fencing and additional crowd control measures around their Capitol buildings, including in Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington, while Pennsylvania has built barriers and increased security.

Although many Capitol buildings are closed due to coronavirus restrictions, the warnings are particularly fraught in states that allow people to openly carry firearms and those where Trump has falsely claimed fraud.

Here's a look at some additional security steps being taken by states:

  • Michigan: After heavily armed demonstrators jammed inside the state Capitol in Lansing in the spring, the open carry of firearms was banned inside the building. Still, Lansing's mayor has asked the governor to call up the National Guard to protect the Capitol, and the state attorney general said that the state's new open-carry firearms ban there is not enough. "The state capitol is not safe," attorney general Dana Nessel said.
  • Virginia: A state of emergency has been declared in Richmond and Capitol Square will be closed ahead of anticipated protests at the state Capitol building. The state is anticipating a gathering Monday for "Lobby Day," an annual protest event that last year brought thousands of gun rights advocates to the Capitol.
  • Oregon: The FBI has set up a command post to gather and share intelligence with law enforcement on potential threats of violence to the state Capitol.
  • Florida and Oklahoma: Lawmakers and staff are being told to work from home this weekend due to the likelihood of protests.
  • Utah: The state is also closing its Capitol building due to planned protests.
  • New York: State police have taken steps "to harden security in and around the State Capitol in Albany" ahead of Biden's inauguration.
  • California: fencing has been deployed around the Capitol, where the governor says there is a "heightened, heightened level of security" and the National Guard could be deployed.

CNN's Amanda Watts, Alison Main, Nicky Robertson, Barbara Starr and Ryan Nobles contributed reporting to this post.

See how Atlanta is setting up additional security measures: 

9:28 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Lawmakers ask travel companies for help in preventing attacks ahead of inauguration

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Lauren Fox

Lawmakers are asking for help from travel companies to prevent an attack on the inauguration and investigate last week’s Capitol insurrection.  

On Thursday the House Oversight Committee sent letters to more than two dozen operators of bus lines, rental car companies and hotels asking for assistance "identifying and preventing the ongoing and extreme threat of further violent attacks in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, over the coming days." 

The request noted that the rioters who attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6, "relied on a range of companies and services to get them there and house them once they arrived." 

The letter asks the companies to increase security and screening of guests and keep business records available for future investigations, as well as provide Congress with records of any policies "currently in place or being developed to ensure that your services are not used to facilitate violence or domestic terrorism."  

The bus companies include:  

  • Greyhound
  • Megabus
  • BoltBus
  • Lux Bus America
  • Vamoose
  • Jefferson Lines
  • Peter Pan
  • Flixbus
  • RedCoach 

The rental car companies include: 

  • Enterprise
  • Hertz
  • Avis
  • National
  • Alamo
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Thrifty

The hotel and accommodation companies include:  

  • Expedia, owner of VRBO
  • Intercontinental Hotels Group
  • Accor Group
  • Hyatt
  • Hilton
  • Choice Hotels
  • Marriott
  • Best Western International
  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
  • Extended Stay America
9:26 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden's inauguration is 5 days away. Here's what we know about the event so far. 

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf, Alex Marquardt, Jeff Zeleny and Kate Sullivan

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on January 14, 2021.
US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on January 14, 2021. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The invitations have been scaled back by the pandemic and the security has been heightened by the insurrection, but Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th president of the United States next week will still have plenty of pomp.

Biden's inauguration is set to take place Wednesday, as the nation's capital continues to fortify the area around the US Capitol following last week's attack.

Here are some key things we know about the event so far:

  • Tightened security: The National Mall will be shut down to keep people away, so we will all be spared another comparison of crowd sizes, especially since President Trump's Twitter handle has been turned off. The threat of violent protests from election-denying Trump supporters and the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops will keep anyone from forgetting Trump's turbulent leadership, or lack thereof. The US Secret Service on Wednesday officially took charge of security for Biden's inauguration, working in coordination with federal law enforcement agencies and the Pentagon. The FBI has warned of armed protests in all 50 state capitals and the TSA is moving to restrict guns in checked baggage. Biden had been planning to take the Amtrak to Washington next week to be sworn in as president, but those plans were scrapped amid the dramatically heightened security surrounding the inauguration.
  • Swearing-in ceremony at Capitol: The President-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are still expected to take their oaths of office on the West Front of the US Capitol during a significantly scaled-down event. Biden said this week that he was "not afraid of taking the oath outside" and that his team had been receiving briefings in the wake of the violence. All the normal VIPs, incoming and outgoing Cabinet members, lawmakers and Supreme Court justices are likely to attend, as is outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. Trump will not. It's rare, but not unheard of, for a president to skip the transfer of power. Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga will add some show-biz glitz to the ceremony, looking out on an empty Mall, a show of defiance to the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, maybe. 
  • Large virtual component: There will be no public parade from the Capitol to the White House, but instead a virtual parade bringing in people from around the country.The inaugural balls — usually there are multiple and the new president makes a short appearance at several — will be replaced by a produced TV show featuring stars like Hanks along with Justin Timberlake. This will feel very much like the Covid inauguration.
  • Trump's departure: President Trump tweeted last week that he will not attend Biden's inauguration and CNN has reported the Trumps are scheduled to leave Washington the day prior, on Jan.19. Biden will stay at the Blair House the night before the inauguration next week. A State Department spokesperson tells CNN, “as is customary, the White House offered use of the Blair House for Jan 19th and it was accepted.” Every president-elect since Jimmy Carter has stayed at Blair House, the guest home that sits across the street from the White House.

CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting to this post.

9:28 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Rehearsal for Biden's inauguration ceremony pushed a day due to security concerns 

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

Members of the New York National Guard stand guard along the fence that surrounds the U.S. Capitol on January 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Members of the New York National Guard stand guard along the fence that surrounds the U.S. Capitol on January 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Sunday rehearsal for the inauguration ceremony will be delayed a day following heightened security concerns, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN Friday morning.

"It is going to take place on Monday, is the current schedule. Secret Service is in charge of running that schedule, but that's done in partnership with Biden team, and it was their decision to delay a day," Cuccinelli told CNN's John Berman on "New Day."

Cuccinelli cited "online chatter" about Sunday, but said there are "no specific credible threats."

"The decision was made to delay a day and leave the Secret Service in a position, and the whole team across the Washington metro area, to be prepared to respond on that day if needed," he said.

Law enforcement officials have warned that domestic extremists are likely more emboldened to carry out attacks on the inauguration, which takes place next Wednesday, and throughout 2021 after seeing the success of last week's siege on the US Capitol.

"We certainly agree there's a good deal of online chatter. It isn't just about Washington, by the way. There's also conversations about state capitols but very unspecific," Cuccinelli said, citing a briefing with state and local law enforcement earlier in the week along with FBI Director Chris Wray. "It's that higher level of tension that we focus on."

Cuccinelli discusses on CNN:

8:55 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

DC attorney general says his office is scrutinizing speeches by Trump and others before riot

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Karl A. Racine, attorney general for the District of Columbia, said the speeches such as those given by President Trump, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr. are getting “full scrutiny” by his office.

“The inciting violence charge is a difficult claim to bring because there is a First Amendment right of free speech. However, speech that incites violence … certainly deserves the full scrutiny of the law, and that's what we're doing in our office,” Racine said on CNN’s “New Day.”

His office is carefully reviewing laws related to free speech, he said. 

“They're talking about combat justice, not showing weakness and fight on … Those seem to be words that are closer to words asking for violence, and we're going to make the tough decision and the right call,” he added. 

Racine also dismissed some lawmakers’ claims comparing Black Lives Matter protests to the Capitol riot.

“Trying to overturn an election with violence, including violence on police officers, is something very, very different. And they should be held to account for their lies,” Racine said.  

Watch:

8:41 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Acting Homeland Security deputy secretary says there is a "raised level of tension" after riot

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Ken Cuccinelli testifiying before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on "Threats to the Homeland" on Capitol Hill on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Ken Cuccinelli testifiying before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on "Threats to the Homeland" on Capitol Hill on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images

Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said there are “no specific credible threats at this point in time” after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but there’s a raised security level across the US. 

“There's just this raised level of tension. And so we're raising our security level. And we're doing it across the country,” Cuccinelli said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

DHS is prepared to assist state and local law enforcement if they call on them to do so, he said. 

“We are pre-positioning people on alert statuses around the country, so we can respond more quickly,” Cuccinelli said. 

Cuccinelli also said that Capitol Police leadership failed to prepare its officers for Jan. 6. They had the same intelligence information as DHS did, he said. 

“We want to be able to deal with these situations out front, and the Capitol Police, who was responsible for this, really failed to do it,” he added.

When asked if the situation could be defused if President Trump would come forward and say definitively that President-elect Joe Biden won and there was no election fraud, Cuccinelli said that Trump has already broadcast “an anti-violence message” to remain peaceful.

Claims of election fraud are “one of the narratives in the online chatter,” Cuccinelli said. 

Cuccinelli also said federal teams will be “aggressive” in investigating and prosecuting rioters who broke the law or any who may be planning additional attacks. 

Watch:

1:30 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

These are the key signals and senators to watch for as the impeachment trial looms

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) displays a signed article of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) displays a signed article of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The House and Senate are gone and attention is on President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week. But be on the lookout for any signals that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are having conversations about impeachment.

One of the key dynamics that will govern whether senators push forward with an impeachment trial at the beginning of President-elect Joe Biden's presidency or whether they wait is going to be whether Republicans agree to allow some of Biden's nominees to move quickly through their confirmation processes in the mornings before the trial. Multiple sources have told CNN that there isn't a clear signal yet whether Republicans would allow the kind of dual-tracking Senate trial that Biden has suggested he'd like to see.

Also, keep your eye on the statements coming from Republican senators: Over the next several days, some Republicans senators will make it very clear where they stand on impeachment. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both Republicans from South Carolina, have done that. And Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said that after Trump leaves office, "the Senate lacks constitutional authority to conduct impeachment proceedings against a former President."

Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio who is up for reelection in 2022, said his decision with be based off of not only the evidence he hears, but "among my considerations will be what is best to help heal our country rather than deepen our divisions."

Republicans must have 17 members vote "yes" to convict Trump in the Senate. All eyes have been on what McConnell decides. Multiple GOP aides have told CNN that McConnell's decision will certainly have an impact on the conference. But, it's also important to remember that while McConnell has a lot of influence, he's not going to be whipping members on a vote like this. And, for members in states where Trump is popular, McConnell's vote may not sway them at all.

That doesn't mean members are not obsessing about where McConnell falls on this. In fact, multiple Republican members and aides CNN has spoken to in recent days have wondered why McConnell has stayed as quiet as he has. Members are asking each other what their leader is thinking.

CNN asked a series of Republican senators if they'd heard from McConnell in recent days on this topic and aside from the conference-wide note he sent on Wednesday, all of the members and aides said McConnell has been giving members their space to think through this on their own.