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FBI Director Defends Agency In Testimony, Calls Jan. 6 Attack 'Domestic Terrorism'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

FBI Director Christopher Wray was on Capitol Hill today for his first public testimony since the January 6 insurrection.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple. And it's behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.

SHAPIRO: Lawmakers are looking for answers about what led to the spectacular security failure on that day. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following the story and joins us now.

Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: So last week, we heard from the former Capitol Police chief and sergeants-at-arms when they testified before Congress. And they blamed intelligence failures for the events of January 6. What did the FBI director say about that?

LUCAS: Well, he defended the FBI's handling and its sharing of information in the run-up to the January 6. He said that the bureau had been warning throughout November and December of the potential for extremist violence all the way up through Joe Biden's inauguration. And he also talked about this much-discussed report that the FBI put out on January 5 based on online chatter that warned of war at the Capitol on January 6. Wray says the FBI shared that report within an hour of receiving it with its partners, including the Capitol Police and the D.C. Metro Police. We heard the ousted Capitol Police chief and the D.C. Metro Police chief acknowledge last week that they received it but said that the FBI didn't make clear at the time that it was important.

And what Wray said today was that the FBI gave it to its partners in three formats - by email, in a verbal briefing at a command post and through a law enforcement portal. And he said that's standard procedure. And it's done to ensure that it gets to the right folks. He said he didn't know why, in this case, they didn't follow up.

SHAPIRO: So some finger pointing there on the intelligence side. What about the investigation that's going on now and what the FBI has uncovered so far?

LUCAS: Well, Wray didn't provide any big revelations today. And that's not really surprising since there is still this massive criminal investigation very much ongoing into what happened on January 6. More than 300 people have been charged so far. Some 280 have been arrested. And we're getting more charges almost daily.

Wray did provide, though, an overview of who was involved in January 6. And he broke it down into three buckets. The largest group, he said, were peaceful protesters, folks who maybe got a little rowdy but never actually broke the law. The second group he described as people who showed up intending to be peaceful but got swept up, carried away and ended up breaking the law but relatively low-level stuff, like trespassing. The third group, he said, was the smallest, but it's also the most concerning. And these are people who came to Washington, D.C., he said, planning to be violent. They broke into the Capitol. They fought police. And they wanted to disrupt Congress. And these are the people that we've seen charged who are members of paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers and in extremist groups such as the Proud Boys.

SHAPIRO: There's this false conspiracy theory out there that some of Donald Trump's supporters have promoted, that it was actually left-wing people who attacked the Capitol trying to frame Trump supporters. Did Wray speak to that?

LUCAS: He did, right. The conspiracy theory about a false-flag operation is something that Democrats on a couple of occasions actually asked Wray about. And here's what he had to say.

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WRAY: We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6. That doesn't mean we're not looking. And we'll continue to look. But at the moment, we have not seen that.

SHAPIRO: And more broadly, what did Wray say about the domestic terrorist threat in the country right now, generally speaking?

LUCAS: Well, he pointed to a host of other violent attacks in recent years and made the point that January 6 was not an isolated incident.

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WRAY: The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it's not going away anytime soon.

LUCAS: He said the FBI currently has around 2,000 domestic terrorism cases open. Wray said that's double the number from when he became FBI director almost four years ago, said the number of white supremacist arrests has tripled over that time span. But the number of anarchist arrests is also up significantly. The bottom line here is domestic violent extremism is a growing problem. And the attack on January 6 is a prime example of it.

SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas, thank you.

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

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