FBI director testifies on Capitol riot security failures

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 2:48 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021
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2:07 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

The hearing just wrapped. Here are some key moments from FBI Director Wray's testimony today.

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Katelyn Polantz

Graeme Jennings/Pool/AP
Graeme Jennings/Pool/AP

The Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray just wrapped.

Wray testified publicly for the first time since pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol nearly two months ago. He was pressed by Democrats and Republicans about the failures that took place during the Jan. 6 attack and how his agency is looking to thwart other potential domestic threats.

Here are some key moments from his testimony:

  • He refuted claims Antifa was at the Capitol riot and knocked down conspiracy theories that rioters were "fake Trump protesters": Wray made clear that Antifa and other left-wing groups were not part of the violence on Jan. 6, which he called "domestic terrorism" — even as several Republicans sought to use the hearing as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed by those groups rather than focus on the Capitol attack. "We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection to the 6th," Wray told the Senate committee. He also told lawmakers Tuesday that the FBI has not seen any evidence indicating that the rioters who took part in the Capitol attack were "fake Trump protesters."
  • He defended his agency's warnings before the attack: Wray described how the FBI quickly shared an intelligence report known as "Norfolk memo," about online chatter before Jan. 6, in three ways with other law enforcement agencies, after receiving the information from the FBI's Norfolk field office. He said it was shared in an email to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a verbal command post briefing in the Washington field office and at FBI headquarters that involved police in DC, and through the law enforcement portal, according to Wray. His answers to at least three senators' questions today about the Norfolk report were in contrast to testimony last week from law enforcement chiefs around the Capitol who largely blamed security failures on a lack of intelligence that had been communicated.
  • He shared where the Capitol riot investigation stands: Wray opened his testimony on Capitol Hill today by saying that the behavior of the rioters on Jan. 6 was "criminal" and has "no place in our democracy." Wray added that "tolerating" the actions of those who sieged the Capitol "would make a mockery of our nation's rule of law." Wray said that so far in the investigation: People have sent the FBI more than 270,000 digital media tips, the FBI has opened hundreds of investigations in all but one of their 56 field offices around the country and that the FBI has arrested more than 270 people to date and more than 300 when you include the FBI's partner agencies. The investigation into the death of Officer Brian Sicknick is still ongoing, Wray said.

Read more about today's hearing here.

2:48 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

FBI is collecting data for a national use of force database

From CNN's Christina Carrega

FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency is working with local police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country to create a use of force database.

Wray said during today's Senate hearing that while he cannot mandate the police agencies to provide the information, he has encouraged them to do so because color of law investigations is a topic that's not going away. 

"We should all want the conversations to be based on the actual facts and the actual data as opposed to what some random person thinks the facts and data are," Wray said in response to Democratic Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff's question. 

Wray didn't say how far into their research they are, but said they have to hit an 80% threshold of police departments "before the data is considered statistically reliable. 

Wray said the FBI is pursuing "quite a number of" color of law investigations across the country. 

"We're also trying to contribute by doing different forms of training and outreach to state and local police departments, so they understand better, kind of, where the lines are and where we fit into it," Wray said.

2:22 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Wray explains why FBI didn't "sound the alarm" to Senate when extremist groups posted intentions for Jan. 6

From CNN's Christina Carrega

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, asked why the FBI didn't "sound the alarm" to the Senate when extremist groups like the Proud Boys posted their intentions for Jan. 6 on social media and other forums.

"There is so much chatter, often unattributed to someone in a neatly identifiable way, where people are saying unbelievably horrific, angry, combative things, using language about beheading and shooting and explosives and things like that," Wray said.

"Separating out which ones are getting traction, which ones need attention as opposed to aspiration is something we spend an enormous amount of time trying to do. sometimes we don't have the luxury of time to be able to make those assessments," Wray continued.

Blumenthal said he understood Wray’s response but, “what I don't understand is why this chatter, raw intelligence, didn't prompt a stronger warning, an alarm going to the very top of the United States Congress, because clearly the United States Congress was under severe threat." 

2:06 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Wray tells senator they share same goal of "deterring and reducing hate crime"

From CNN's Christina Carrega

FBI Director Christopher Wray says the FBI is rolling out a new system that will combat against underreporting of hate crimes. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, asked Wray if the "No Hate Act" that aims to improve the accuracy of hate crime reporting and provide resources for state hate crime hotlines that is a "good idea" especially with the rise in attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Blumenthal endorsed and has supported the legislation since 2019. 

Wray said he wasn't familiar with the bill, but assured Blumenthal that they share the same goal of "both deterring and reducing hate crime but also particularly relevantly promoting better reporting, more complete reporting of hate crime," Wray said.

He went on to say that the FBI is introducing a system called NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System). 

Blumenthal told Wray that the "No Hate Act" would "lead to better reporting" since 87% of hate crimes are underreported now with the current system. 

1:46 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

FBI director doesn't denounce lawmakers who endorse QAnon when pressed by Democratic senator 

From CNN's Christina Carrega

Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Richard Blumenthal  Demetrius Freeman/Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he is "disappointed" that FBI Director Christopher Wray dodged the opportunity to denounce lawmakers who endorse the ideologies of QAnon. 

Blumenthal asked Wray if the continued threat of domestic terrorism is worse "when prominent elected officials including members of Congress endorse QAnon theories."

In October, CNN reported that several congressional candidates engaged with the QAnon conspiracy theory of those mentioned, Marjorie Taylor Greene went on to win a seat in Georgia's 14th congressional district.

West Virginia legislator Derrick Evans resigned after he participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection. GOP Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who is part of the Senate Judiciary Committee where today's hearing is taking place, was seen outside of the Capitol on the day of the attack raising his fist in solidarity.

"Well, certainly we are concerned about the QAnon phenomenon which we view as a sort of loose, sort of set of conspiracy theories, and we've certainly seen domestic violent extremists of the sort that you're describing, who cite that as part of their motivation. And so that's something that we do," Wray said. 

Blumenthal interrupted Wray for not immediately condemning the idea that lawmakers support the insurrectionists and asked the question in another way.

"When members of Congress, as has happened endorse the QAnon theory, doesn't it worsen the threat of violence?" Blumenthal asked. 

Wray still did not take the opportunity to denounce the behavior.

"Well, I'll follow up in another setting, but I am frankly disappointed that you're not discouraging one of the sources of incitement which is prominent public officials endorsing a theory that in turn resulted in storming the United States Capitol," Blumenthal said.

2:02 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

GOP senator expresses frustration with "10 years" of empty responses from the FBI

From CNN's Christina Carrega

Sen. Mike Lee
Sen. Mike Lee Pool

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray on the "over the last 10 years" of frustrations stemming from repeated attempts to get answers from the agency.

"Over the years, I mean literally, over the last 10 years, the entire 10 years I've served as a member of this committee and as a member of the United States Senate, I've been told fairly consistent answers under different FBI directors in different presidential administrations run by different parties," Lee said to Wray. 

Lee said that the "most consistent theme" in the answers about questions regarding collecting metadata from communications providers "and so forth" has been "trust us. Don't worry."

Wray responded to Lee about his concerns especially when it came to the Justice Department's Inspector General's 2019 report on "Crossfire Hurricane." 

"I ordered, at the time, over 40 corrective actions to go above and beyond the recommendations of the inspector general's report and those have been implemented. Those include everything from strengthening our procedures to ensure accuracy and completeness, to make sure that the court gets all the information it's supposed to changes in our protocols for CHS — Confidence in Human Sources — training changes, we, I created a new office of internal audit," Wray said. 

Even with that response Lee needed more assurance from Wray.

"Over the last 10 years since I've been here, 'We will work with you, We will work with you,' as translated into opposition from inside the FBI, every single time we've tried to bring about one of those reforms, every time," Lee said. "As sure as the sun will come up in the East tomorrow, we've been told by the FBI, 'You can't do that. Don't worry, we've got it with our own internal controls.' I hope you'll be sympathetic to me this time around, recognizing that I've been told that over and over and over again. And we're not going to accept that answer anymore." 

In a later exchange with Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, Wray said, "it pains and frustrates me when we're not able to be as responsive as you need us to be. And I commit to doing my best to see if we can work with you all to, to get better on that front." 


12:29 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

FBI director urges Americans: "See something, say something" to combat domestic terrorism

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Graeme Jennings/Pool/AP
Graeme Jennings/Pool/AP

FBI Director Christopher Wray urged Americans to take a "see something, say something" approach with hate speech and threats especially on social media and online, as the bureau attempts to combat terrorism threats in a way not seen since the terrorism crackdown after Sept. 11, 2001.

"If Americans see something on social media that seems to have crossed that line, they need to say something," Wray added, harkening back to the post-9/11 message to "see something, say something" to combat possible impending terrorism.

"That's going to be our best source of information to prevent this," Wray said.

He said people who notice threats online can contact state and local law enforcement, or local FBI field offices.

He also spoke candidly about how hard it is to use social media to predict threats from Americans who have become political extremists.

"Some angry demented guy living in mom's basement—not that there's anything wrong with that—in one part of the country is now able to communicate with a similarly angry guy in grandma's attic in another part of the country, and they get each other spun up now ... the amount of angry, hateful, unspeakable, combative, even violent rhetoric on social media exceeds what anybody in their worst imagination is out there," Wray said on Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

12:26 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Sen. Graham suggests FBI identify and define domestic terrorism organizations

From CNN's Christina Carrega


South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said "it's time" to think about defining domestic terrorism organizations. 

During a rapid-fire question and answer portion of questions with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Graham pressed Wray to define various groups that have committed acts of domestic terrorism, White supremacy, and racist attacks for decades.

Read their exchange:

"Is the Proud Boys, are they a domestic terrorist group?" Graham asked. 
"Well, I don't think we have treated the Proud Boys itself as a domestic terrorism group, but we certainly have individuals," Wray said before he was interrupted by Graham. 
"What does it take to make the list?" Graham asked. 
"Well there is, as you may know senator, under federal law under US law, there is no list of domestic terrorism organizations, the same way there is for foreign terrorist organization," Wray responded. 
"Well, let's think about that the next 47 seconds. Oath Keepers, are they a domestic terrorist organization?" Graham asked. 
"Again, as with Proud Boys, we have individuals who associate themselves with that group who are…" Wray said before another interruption by Graham.
"Was Antifa a domestic terrorist organization? Same thing, same answer?" Graham asked. 
"Same answer," Wray said.  
"So why don't we think about how to gather better information and expose some of these groups. If they were on a list would it make it easier for you?" Graham asked. 
"I think the issue of whether or not to designate or have a formal mechanism for designating domestic terror 'groups,'" Wray said while putting up air quotes around "group." Wray added, "the same way we do with say al Qaeda or ISIS." 
"Is the KKK a domestic terrorist group?" Graham asked. 
"Well, that there is no legal designation for a domestic terrorist group…," Wray responded. 
"My point is, I don't know if we should have one or not, but I think it's time to think about it," Graham said. 


12:26 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Wray says FBI sent "more than just an email" to law enforcement agencies about online chatter before Jan. 6

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz


Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray about the communication failures that occurred on Jan. 6 and the much-discussed Norfolk memo, named for the FBI office in Virginia where it originated.

Wray described how the FBI quickly shared an intelligence report about online chatter before Jan. 6, saying they provided information in three ways to other law enforcement agencies, after receiving the information from the FBI's Norfolk field office. 

The Norfolk memo has become central to questions about whether law enforcement agencies protecting the Capitol had enough sound intelligence to prepare before the siege.

Wray's answers to at least three senators' questions on Tuesday about the Norfolk report fill out where and how the intelligence was shared, and stands in contrast to testimony last week from law enforcement chiefs around the Capitol who largely blamed security failures on Jan. 6 on a lack of intelligence that had been communicated. Former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told House lawmakers, for example, that he only learned days before last week's hearing about the bombshell FBI memo.

Wray said the Norfolk report was passed to law enforcement partners, including the Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department within an hour after it was received, he said on Tuesday.

It was shared in three ways, he said: an email to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a verbal command post briefing in the Washington field office and at FBI headquarters that involved police in DC, and through the law enforcement portal.

Read a part of Klobuchar and Wray's exchange in today's hearing:

Klobuchar: "One of my questions that we'll continue to be asking as part of this investigation we're doing with the Rules Committee and Homeland Security, is how could we change this so this never happens again. So those type of threats — this type of information gets to the right people. And do you have any response on that? 
Wray: Well, as I said, if connection with the particular report that you're referring to, the Norfolk S.I.R. as they call it, we did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and MPD in not one, not two, but three different ways. 
Klobuchar: You think it is enough just to send an email? 
Wray: It is more than just an email. Right. So first off the email itself, went to I think there may be as many as five capitol police task force officers on the joint terrorism task force, and the whole point of the task force is for the chosen representatives of the partner agency to be there in the loop real-time so that everybody has the same information so that each agency could use that information to do what it needs to do."

"So having said that, I do not consider what happened on January 6th to be an acceptable result and that is why we're looking at figuring how to the process could be improved," Wray continued.

Wray called the memo "raw, unverified, uncorroborated information" that had been gathered from online posts, but was notable enough for the FBI to share with police in Washington, DC, almost immediately.

Wray did not see the Norfolk report until after Jan. 6, he added.