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Secret Service knew there was a threat at the Capitol long before Jan. 6 insurrection

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Among the biggest revelations to come out of the last select committee hearing on the January 6 attack is new evidence showing the U.S. Secret Service knew there was potential for the day to turn violent. California Congressman and committee member Adam Schiff said the panel obtained nearly a million records from the Secret Service. And here's how he described one tip to the agency.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: According to the source of the tip, the Proud Boys planned to march armed into D.C. Their plan is to literally kill people. Please, please take this tip seriously and investigate further.

PFEIFFER: Let's talk about the implications of this with Carol Leonnig, a national investigative reporter for The Washington Post who has covered the Secret Service extensively. Hi, Carol.

CAROL LEONNIG: Hi. How are you, Sacha?

PFEIFFER: I'm good. Help us suss out this timeline. At what point did the Secret Service know about the possibility for violence?

LEONNIG: Even I was surprised to learn that as early as, you know, the day before Christmas, the Secret Service had prescient early warnings about the likelihood that folks traveling to Washington for the president's rally were planning a siege on the Capitol, at least some of them were. There is a whole unit at the Secret Service called the Protective Intelligence division, and they found that chatter online among these groups was incredibly violent. The Protective Intelligence division, as far as we can see, did not make any change to plan as a result of seeing all of this plotting for real danger.

PFEIFFER: What should have been done as a result of this information we now know the Secret Service received?

LEONNIG: There should have been a law enforcement and national security collective threat assessment meeting days before January 6. That meeting would have led to a lot of smart steps. And one of them possibly could be additional protection for the vice president as he moved to the Capitol, a place that was targeted for attack. As I say it out loud, it's still sort of gobsmacking to me that they allowed the vice president to go there.

PFEIFFER: Carol Leonnig, I was reading reader comments on the story you wrote about this new evidence, and one of them says this - that the revelations, quote, "raise questions about the reliability and, more importantly, the loyalty of at least some members of the Secret Service." What insight can you offer about this larger issue of where the loyalties of the Secret Service lay that day?

LEONNIG: You know, for my book "Zero Fail," I wrote a piece that had to do with numerous members of the presidential protection team who were privately and in some of their public Facebook posts or online media posts were cheering on the rioters at the Capitol. I have known for a long time that the Secret Service leans conservative, but one of the very worrisome elements of the Secret Service that day is they were allowing a senior Secret Service official to be a political adviser to Donald Trump.

Tony Ornato - his No. 1 goal in that position was to help Donald Trump make appearances that helped him politically. And that really never should have happened because you can't be an apolitical protector of our democracy and the stability of it - that's the Secret Service mission - and be implementing a president's will to remain in power.

PFEIFFER: How has the Secret Service responded to what the January 6 panel laid out?

LEONNIG: Faron Paramore, now deputy director of the Secret Service, issued a statement saying, you know, we are part of a national security and law enforcement team with a host of other agencies. We share and receive intelligence, and we did that day. That doesn't explain what actions did you take with this information.

I know Secret Service agents routinely will run down every single lead about a threat against the president's life. They've been known to go to a bar where somebody was drunk and spouting off and didn't really mean the threat that they said. But the agents in the field go and find that person, knock on their door and ask them, what's going on, man? So why weren't these other threats something to take note of, to have concern about?

PFEIFFER: That's Carol Leonnig, a national investigative reporter for The Washington Post. Carol, thank you.

LEONNIG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Zamora
Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Sacha Pfeiffer
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.