You might think that an insurrection of that magnitude — the first time the Capitol building had been overrun since the War of 1812 — would occasion a massive (and public) federal response to find out how this happened and to prevent it from happening again. And you would be wrong.
As of Tuesday morning, the US Capitol Police, FBI, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security had held a total of zero — yes, zero — public briefings on the Capitol riots. To the extent we know what happened that day, and what is being done internally to address it, it comes from eyewitness accounts, videos shared on social media and arrests of protesters being made by local authorities in their home states.
Democratic members of Congress have tried to fill the void. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who chairs a House subcommittee looking into the origins of the riot, announced Monday that two Capitol Police officers had been suspended for their roles in the riots (one posed with a rioter, another put on a “MAGA” hat) while at least 190 more are under investigation for their roles during the insurrection. Only after Ryan went public with that news did Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, confirm the suspensions.
1) Because of the absolute chaos of the final days of the Trump administration (which was worsened by a series of resignations in the wake of the riots and President Donald Trump’s incitement of them) there are very few people actually in charge. Bill Barr is no longer at the Justice Department. Chad Wolf resigned on Monday as head of the Department of Homeland Security. The chief of the Capitol Police resigned under pressure following the riots — as did the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms. What that series of departures — forced and otherwise — has created is a total lack of leadership within the ranks of the administration. No one is taking point on how to inform the public about what happened because no one really knows who is in charge
2) Trump never — not really — thought that the protests were a bad thing. As Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse recounted of Trump in an interview last Friday: “As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.” Even Trump’s public pronouncements as he sought to sort-of defuse the situation and get his supporters to leave the Capitol were larded with evidence of how he really felt — citing that the 2020 election was stolen from him (it wasn’t) and telling the rioters “we love you.” Given the President’s feelings — and his own personal silence in the wake of the riots — there’s not much momentum to cross him and go public with information about what exactly happened last Wednesday and how to prevent it from happening again.
3) The Trump administration is eight days from being over. People are headed for the exits now more rapidly than ever before, as working in the White House is rapidly becoming a scarlet letter in the country. While you’re packing up your stuff and trying to get the hell out of Dodge, the last thing on your mind is talking to the public about one of the greatest law enforcement failures in modern memory.
But whatever the reasons for the utter silence on the part of the Trump administration, it is unconscionable. Five people died in the riots. Many others were injured. And just as a reminder, the United States Capitol Building, one of the most durable symbols of democracy and freedom in this country, was overrun by a mob fed lies about the outcome of the 2020 election by the President of the United States.
In the face of that reality, silence is simply not an option. It is the job of the federal government to both protect its citizens and inform them. Right now, President Trump and his administration are doing neither.