House Administrative Official Tells Congress Mental Impact of Capitol Riot Could Be Long-lasting

Nearly two months after a mob of angry Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, members of Congress are beginning to dive into the fallout from an attack that left five people dead and many more injured.

But so far there's been little clarity on what law enforcement knew before the riots that caused millions in property damage, threatened priceless Capitol artifacts and forced the federal government to consider the long-term mental effects on its employees.

"While the physical scarring and damage to our magnificent Capitol building can be detected and repaired, the emotional aspects of the events of January 6 are more difficult to notice and treat," Catherine Szpindor, chief administrative officer of the U.S. House testified in a hearing Wednesday.

Szpindor described the "harrowing hours" she spent sheltering with other employees "as chaos was ensuing just outside of our office in the Capitol."

"After a critical incident, feelings of fear, desperation, anxiety and depression can linger undetected or even be ignored," she said.

Several offices have increased mental health services for employees, including adding new counselors and wellness liaisons to promote offerings.

"Based on everything the House community has experienced since early January, it is apparent that [employee assistance] services are in high demand," Szpindor said.

After leaving a rally that then-President Donald Trump, who had refused to concede the election to rival Joe Biden, thousands of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, attempting to stop the election certification. Nearly 250 people have been arrested so far, as the FBI seeks more information from the public.

The U.S. House and Senate have both begun hearing directly from law enforcement about the response that day and the officials who have been responsible for the aftermath, which included clearing mountains of debris, blood, feces and paint from the inaugural stage that was under construction on the Capitol steps at the time.

"We were committed to, and ensured that, the Electoral College certification process could continue on January 6," Brett Blanton, architect of the Capitol, testified Wednesday.

Also among the damage: marble and granite busts of Speakers Joe Cannon, Champ Clark, Joe Martin and Thomas Brackett Reed; portraits of James Madison and John Quincy Adams; a bust of Chippewa statesman Be shekee; and a statue of Thomas Jefferson. But it could have been much worse, Farar Elliott, curator for the U.S. House, told lawmakers.

"During the riot, courageous staffers saved several important artifacts of the House's legislative history," she testified. "Quick thinking by a journal clerk secured the House's 1819 silver inkstand, the oldest object in the Chamber."

Wednesday's hearing was a stark departure from one the day before, where the three top law enforcement officials at the Capitol on the day of the attack — Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving and Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger — appeared to give conflicting testimony about how law enforcement had prepared for the anticipated protest and what intel they had access to. All three resigned in the days after the siege.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has suggested a 9/11-style commission to fully investigate the Capitol attack, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the plan of being partisan in nature.

"We could do something narrow that looks at the Capitol, or we could potentially do something broader to analyze the full scope of the political violence problem in this country," he said from the Senate floor on Wednesday. "We cannot land at some artificial, politicized halfway point."

Acting Chief Of Police Yogananda D. Pittman, who oversaw Protective &
Intelligence Operations at the time, will be the next to give lawmakers insight into what happened and what should be changed when she appears at a hearing Thursday. Pittman will testify that security had been beefed up for January 6 because the agency's intelligence division, with its law enforcement partners in the FBI, determined that it was more likely to become violent and intense than previous marches had been. But the efforts ultimately were not enough.

"While the Department was prepared to neutralize and remove individuals or groups engaging in civil disobedience or violence among the demonstrators, it was quickly overwhelmed by the thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) who immediately and without provocation began attacking officers, bypassing physical barriers, and refusing to comply with lawful orders," Pittman will tell lawmakers, based on a written copy of her opening remarks. "The Department's preparations were based on the information it gathered from its law enforcement partners like the FBI and others within the intelligence community, none of which indicated that a mass insurrection of this scale would occur at the U.S. Capitol on January 6."

More officers were added to the standard details for members of leadership and agents were posted at certain potentially-targeted members' homes, among other measures.

On the morning of Trump's rally, less than two miles away from the Capitol, undercover agents surveyed the crowds and evacuation transportation was arranged at the Capitol for leaders, in case they would be needed. CPD also prepared additional crowd-control measures, including pepper balls and protective shields.

"Despite the adjustment in its operations...the department was not prepared for the massive groups of violent insurrectionists that descended on the U.S. Capitol," Pittman plans to testify.

Capitol riot
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. Samuel Corum/Getty