The FBI director, Christopher Wray, has said that the bureau considers the 6 January Capitol attack an act of “domestic terrorism” and suggested that “serious charges” were still to come in its continuing criminal investigation.
Testifying before Congress on Thursday, the director rubbished Donald Trump’s claims about a stolen presidential election. “We did not find evidence of fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election,” he told lawmakers on the House judiciary committee.
Wray’s testimony came as federal prosecutors charged six members of a rightwing militia group with conspiring to storm the Capitol, the latest in a series of such charges arising from 6 January.
Democratic lawmakers repeatedly grilled Wray, appointed by Trump in 2017, over what they said were intelligence failures that left law enforcement ill-prepared for the deadly attack.
“The FBI’s inaction in the weeks leading up to January 6 is simply baffling,” said Jerry Nadler, the House judiciary committee chairman. “It is hard to tell whether FBI headquarters merely missed the evidence – which had been flagged by your field offices and was available online for all the world to see – or whether the bureau saw the intelligence, underestimated the threat, and simply failed to act.”
A Senate report recently concluded that the deadly insurrection had been planned “in plain sight” but that warnings had gone unheeded due to a troubling mix of bad communications, poor planning, faulty equipment and lack of leadership.
Wray said that “almost none” of the 500 people charged so far with participating in the attack had been under FBI investigation previously, suggesting it would have been difficult for the FBI to have monitored them in advance.
“You can be darn sure that we are going to be looking hard at how we can do better, how we can do more, how we can do things differently in terms of collecting and disseminating” intelligence, Wray said.
Thursday’s charges against six men, all from California, were disclosed in an indictment unsealed in federal court in Washington. Two of them, Alan Hostetter and Russell Taylor, were seen a day before the riot with Roger Stone, a friend and adviser to Trump, during a protest outside the US supreme court against the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
About 30 people – including members of two other rightwing groups, the Oath Keepers and Tte Proud Boys – have been accused of conspiracy, the most serious charges related to the riot. Those pending cases are the largest and most complex of the roughly 500 brought by the justice department since the attack.
Asked whether the FBI was investigating Trump or Stone, Wray said he could neither confirm nor deny any FBI investigation.
“I’m talking about Mr Big, No 1,” said the Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, referring to Trump. “Have you gone after the people who incited the riot?”
Wray responded: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be discussing whether or not we are or aren’t investigating specific individuals.”
Wray also faced questions about the recent spate of ransomware attacks against major US companies. The FBI’s director told lawmakers that the bureau discouraged ransomware payments to hacking groups.
“It is our policy, it is our guidance, from the FBI, that companies should not pay the ransom for a number of reasons,” Wray said.
Still, recently hacked companies including Colonial Pipeline and JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company, have admitted paying millions to hackers in order to regain control of their computer systems.
The justice department has said it was able to recover the majority of the ransomware payment made by Colonial Pipeline after locating the virtual wallet used by the hackers.