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Officials Say An Investigation Into Insurrection At The U.S. Capitol May Take Weeks

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Well, the Justice Department has arrested dozens of people, but federal authorities tell NPR they are probably still weeks away from a full understanding of how some rioters may have planned to storm the U.S. Capitol. And now there are new indications that the security threat is far from over. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the events, and she joins us with more.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right, so just catch us up real quick on where we are with this investigation so far.

JOHNSON: Yeah. As you mentioned, we've had some arrests, including two men who seem to have been pictured with zip ties or detention cuffs inside the chamber during the riots. Authorities arrested Eric Munchel in Tennessee and Larry Brock of Texas on Sunday. They're going to be prosecuted here in Washington, D.C. The FBI also arrested the man wearing the horns and carrying a spear inside the Capitol. Members of Congress are worried that current and former military and law enforcement may have actually taken part in this riot. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois wrote to the Pentagon, asking them to cooperate with the FBI investigations. And local police forces around the country are also investigating some of their members. Another congressman in touch with the U.S. Capitol Police says two Capitol police have been suspended, one for taking a selfie with the rioters, another for wearing a MAGA hat. About 10 or 15 more Capitol police are under investigation themselves. But for now, the really big open question is whether there was a criminal conspiracy to attack the legislative branch. Here's Nancy Pelosi on "60 Minutes" last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

NANCY PELOSI: The evidence is now that it was a well-planned, organized group with leadership and guidance and direction. And the direction was to go get people. They were vocally saying, where's the speaker? We know she has staff. They're here someplace. We're going to find them.

JOHNSON: Now, a source familiar with the investigation tells me the FBI is likely weeks away from a full understanding of any plotting or planning in advance, but the source says they're getting somewhere on those questions. And the Justice Department's on Capitol Hill tomorrow, briefing several congressional panels too.

CHANG: OK, so so many threads to pursue. And, of course, we are only five days out from what happened at the Capitol last week. What is law enforcement doing right now?

JOHNSON: They are sifting through video and social media and cell site data from the Capitol that day, figuring out where to send agents for in-person interviews. I spoke today with Mary McCord of the Georgetown Law Center. She used to run the national security division at the Justice Department.

MARY MCCORD: There were caravans and rally points and people that were organizing, you know, hotel stays. And these are also the kind of things that law enforcement looks at when they investigate a conspiracy. But, again, I don't think here they're going to find any single conspiracy. I think they're going to find a whole lot of separate conspiracies through different groups and different organizations of people.

JOHNSON: And I have a little more information about two of the most alarming incidents from last week. The FBI is still looking for the person who planted pipe bombs near the Capitol last week and for the people who attacked Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. He died in what authorities are calling a line-of-duty death. There is a homicide investigation underway. And over the weekend, we learned another Capitol Police officer, Howard Liebengood, had died by suicide. A family spokesman said he was involved in the Capitol Police response last week. He worked on the Senate side of the Capitol, and he'd been praised by former Senator John Kerry and many others. His family says he will be very sorely missed.

CHANG: So devastating - well, of course, all of this is happening just days before Inauguration Day. What do we know about a possible threat there?

JOHNSON: Yeah, the FBI has sent state and local partners a bulletin that could - more could be coming. The document warns that 50 state capitals and D.C. should be on alert starting January 16 or 17 through Inauguration Day. The fear here is that armed protesters will once again try to overtake government buildings, and we're hearing calls from some to move the inauguration indoors. President-elect Biden told reporters today he's not afraid to take the oath outside. Meanwhile, the park service says it's going to close the Washington Monument until later this month, citing credible threats to the inauguration. The fear from some in law enforcement and Congress is that this is not over. It may be only the beginning, and they want authorities to be prepared this time around.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson.

Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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