WASHINGTON — FBI Director Chris Wray condemned the January riot at the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism” Tuesday as he defended the bureau’s handling of intelligence indicating the prospect for violence. He told lawmakers the information was properly shared with other law enforcement agencies even though it was raw and unverified.
Wray’s comments in his first public appearance before Congress since the deadly Capitol attack two months ago amounted to the FBI’s most vigorous defense against the suggestion that it had not adequately communicated to police agencies that there was a distinct possibility of violence as lawmakers were gathering to certify the results of the presidential election.
A Jan. 5 report from the FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington the following day. However, Capitol Police leaders have said they were unaware of that report and had received no intelligence from the FBI that would have led them to expect the sort of violence that besieged the Capitol that day. Five people died that day.
Asked about the handling of the report, Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that it was shared though the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post and posted on an Internet portal available to other law enforcement agencies. The information was raw and unverified, and ideally, the FBI would have had more time to try to corroborate it.
“Our folks made the judgment to get that to the relevant people as quickly as possible,” Wray said.
He was also expected to be pressed at the hearing on how the FBI is confronting a national security threat from white nationalists and domestic violent extremists and whether the bureau has adequate resources to address those issues.
The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcement agency that remade 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.
“It’s behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism. It’s got no place in our democracy and tolerating it would make a mockery of our nation’s rule of law,” Wray said of Jan. 6.
Wray has kept a notably low profile since the Capitol attack. Though he has briefed lawmakers privately and shared information with local law enforcement, Tuesday’s oversight hearing marked Wray’s first public appearance before Congress since before November’s presidential election.
Wray was also likely to face questions about the FBI’s investigation into a massive Russian hack of corporations and U.S. government agencies, which happened when elite hackers injected malicious code into a software update.