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FBI and intel agencies hand over first documents to lawmakers ahead of Capitol attack hearings next week

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By Zachary Cohen and Whitney Wild
Updated 12:43 PM ET, Fri February 19, 2021

Washington (CNN) — House investigators have received the first batch of documents they requested from the FBI and intelligence agencies as part of their ongoing probe into security failures around the January 6 US Capitol attack, according to an official from one of the committees investigating the matter.

The FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center provided materials in response to a detailed request from January 16 made by four House committees that are conducting a joint investigation of the events surrounding the attack. The review is focused on three main questions: what did federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies know before, during and after the attack? How did foreign adversaries seek to exploit the event? And what’s been done to address domestic terror threats in the weeks since?
The official who spoke to CNN did not elaborate on the specifics of the documents provided to the committee.
The joint probe conducted by the House Intelligence, Oversight, Homeland Security and Judiciary committees is also investigating the role private companies, including social media platforms like Parler, played in potentially helping fuel the attack and protect the identity of rioters involved.
    In a letter sent to company COO Jeffrey Wernick last week, House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney noted that multiple Parler users have been arrested and charged for their roles in the riot, “with the Department of Justice citing in several instances the threats that individuals made through Parler in the days leading up to and following the attack.”
    The first batch of documents sent by the FBI and NCTC indicates federal agencies are cooperating with lawmakers, who are aggressively seeking more evidence than what was collected for the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. A congressional source told CNN the massive scope and severity of riot merits a deep investigation to uncover every detail, and hold officials accountable to the public.
    Congressional committees have already announced plans to call witnesses for open hearings starting next week, something that was discussed, but never materialized during the impeachment trial.
    Those plans are expected to continue even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week called for an independent commission to investigate the incident, a proposal that has received mixed reviews from some GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
    Lawmakers themselves could face scrutiny for their role in the attack. Many Republicans joined Trump in pushing false election claims in the weeks leading up to the attack, while some have raised questions about Pelosi’s role in the security failures of January 6 and say that should also be part of any investigation into the attack on the Capitol.

    Senate and House hearings next week

    The Senate Intelligence Committee is also looking at the intelligence failures related to January 6, including the nexus between domestic disinformation and possible foreign intervention, according to a source familiar with the probe. That panel has started making requests for information, the source said.
    Additionally, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules committees are conducting a joint investigation with plans to hold their first public hearing next week on the security failures that left five people dead, more than 140 officers injured, and raised questions about whether the trauma of the day contributed to two officer suicides.
    The committees have invited Metropolitan Police acting Chief Robert Contee, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, and former United States Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to testify. Sources tell CNN both Contee and Sund plan to testify. Sund’s testimony could mark a break from a weeks-long silence about the dismal failure of his department and subsequent resignation from his post.
    It’s unclear whether Irving or Stenger will appear on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but if they do, their testimonies could be monumental. According to a letter from Sund to congressional leadership, Sund asked his supervisors, Irving and Stenger, to send the National Guard to the Capitol in the days before the riot. Sund accused Irving of denying the request over concerns congressional leaders wouldn’t like the “optics” of armed military members patrolling the Capitol.
    In the letter, Sund said Stenger told him to ensure the Guard was in a “forward leaning” position prior to the assault.
    As Sergeants At Arms, Irving and Stenger bridged the gap between politics and policing. As members of the Capitol Police Board — the most immediate oversight committee for USCP — they were the final decision makers as USCP prepared its posture for January 6.
    The hearing won’t serve entirely as a fact-finding mission. Lawmakers will undoubtedly grill Sund, Irving and Stenger about their failures leading up to the riot. Contee will likely feel less heat from lawmakers, as MPD swooped in to assist after staging law enforcement outside the Capitol Complex.
    The House Appropriations committee, which has direct oversight of the US Capitol Police, also plans to hold a hearing next Thursday with acting USCP Chief Yogananda Pittman and acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett. This will mark the first time either has appeared in an open hearing. Pittman apologized to lawmakers for security failures in a closed door hearing last month.
    The House committees conducting the joint review have not yet scheduled hearings but do have subpoena power to compel testimony if and when the investigation reaches that stage. Congressional sources say lawmakers realize the various committee investigations may overlap one another, which has prompted several committees to combine their efforts. The panels are also working to establish clear lanes for each investigation.
    For now, one of the broadest joint committee reviews is led by House Intelligence, Oversight, Homeland Security and Judiciary.
    It is focused on several core issues, including, “what the Intelligence Community and federal law enforcement knew about the threats of violence, whether that information was shared or not, and whether the threats had any nexus to foreign influence or misinformation efforts,” according to the same January 16 letter.
    Lawmakers also want to know if any current of former holders of security clearances were involved in the riots, what warning signs may have been missed and if any measures were taken to apprehend or prevent travel by any domestic extremists involved in the attack, the letter states.
    Separately, the House Appropriations Committee, which was the first Congressional committee to have a hearing on the violent insurrection, is conducting its own review focused primarily on internal Capitol security, including assessments and communications between the various law enforcement agencies throughout January 6 attack.
    Additionally, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is conducting an independent review of the security posture on Capitol Hill at the direction of Pelosi and is expected to provide recommendations based on his findings next month.

    Walking a political tight-rope

    Congressional sources have indicated that even they are unsure how the outside commission would interact with the numerous committee probes.
    While leading House Republicans haven’t expressed outright opposition as they await more details, they warn the commission shouldn’t relitigate the impeachment. And in the Senate, there are questions from Republicans about whether Congress is better positioned to investigate the January 6 riot than a new, outside entity.
    “There is no need for Congress to abdicate its responsibility to conduct its own investigations and oversight since there are congressional committees with clear jurisdiction as well as subject matter and investigative expertise,” one Senate GOP aide said. “Commissions can be slower and costlier than congressional investigations and can also suffer from questions regarding access to records that are more easily surmounted by a congressional committee with subpoena power.”
    Democrats say that the commission must examine all facets of the riot, which include the role that Trump played stirring up false claims of election fraud that alleged rioters charged by federal prosecutors have cited in explaining why they attacked the Capitol on January 6.
    “I fully support Speaker Pelosi’s 9/11-style commission. One thing they will find is that Donald Trump incited the insurrection,” California Rep. Ted Lieu, one of the House impeachment managers, told CNN on Monday. “Leading from that are a whole host of questions we don’t know yet, such as how do we have such a massive breakdown in security?”
    On Thursday, Pelosi reiterated her support for forming a commission, telling reporters it must have subpoena power and be “strongly bipartisan.”
    At the same time, Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill told CNN that the House committees are expected to continue their work if a commission is formed, noting the 9/11 Commission had inside and outside pieces.
    The House Appropriations Committee also plans to continue its work as the commission gets underway.
    “Once a 9/11-type commission is established, the Appropriations Committee will share the information gathered through the Committee’s ongoing investigation with the commission” House Appropriations committee communications director Evan Hollander told CNN.
      Former New Jersey GOP Gov. Thomas Kean, who served as chair of the 9/11 Commission, said the overlap of Congressional investigations with the commission should not be a problem.
      “There’s no reason both groups can’t work together,” but reminded that “an independent commission has advantages that Congress doesn’t have” such as more resources, staff and credibility because the commission is not partisan.

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      Politics

      Biden to take first limited steps on gun control, including on ‘ghost guns’ and pistol braces

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      By Kevin Liptak, CNN
      Updated 10:57 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

      (CNN) — President Joe Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official.

      The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take “common sense” steps right away to address gun violence.
      But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.
        Biden said last month following a mass shooting in Colorado, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.” But he has acknowledged that passing a massive new infrastructure plan — and not new gun laws — is his top legislative priority.
          Biden will make the announcements Thursday from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.
              The announcements will come as the President is expected to nominate David Chipman as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a White House official told CNN. Chipman is a former ATF agent who serves as senior policy adviser at Giffords, the organization led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who became a gun control advocate after being shot in 2011.
              The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
              Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.
              Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden’s administration to combat gun violence. Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions have been led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
              That included meeting with some of those groups and fielding ideas for steps that Biden could take on his own. Some advocates had been clamoring for steps earlier in the administration, pointing to Biden’s pledge to prioritize gun control during his campaign.
              But initial reaction from gun safety advocacy groups Wednesday evening was positive.
              “Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
              “These much-needed executive actions will start saving lives right away, and our grassroots army of nearly 6 million supporters looks forward to standing behind President Biden as he urges the Senate to follow his lead and act,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
              While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
              Following last month’s shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like reenacting an assault weapons ban, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who argued for executive actions on the campaign trail, telling “CBS This Morning” that “if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
              The Democratic-controlled House passed gun legislation that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales last month, but the bills face tougher paths in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
              Biden acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.
              And he has acknowledged that his political capital is limited.
              “I haven’t done any counting yet,” he said in March when asked whether he believed he had enough votes to pass significant reforms.
              As the nation’s posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
                Recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado had raised the question inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration.
                This story has been updated with details about Biden’s executive actions and reaction to them.

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                Virginia lawmakers OK marijuana possession starting July 1

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                By Paul LeBlanc and Kay Jones, CNN
                Updated 9:45 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                (CNN) — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana, becoming the latest state to modify its laws around cannabis use and possession that disproportionately jailed Black people for nonviolent offenses.

                The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The law also “modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary posted to the Legislature’s website.
                “Virginia led and made history once again today,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, said in a tweet.
                  “I was proud to cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize marijuana and bring long overdue justice, fairness, equity and opportunity to the people of our great Commonwealth.”
                    The bill had originally passed in late February, but Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sent it back to the Legislature with a series of revisions, including a proposal to accelerate the timeline of its enactment to this July instead of 2024.
                        Still, the measure was met with fierce opposition from state GOP lawmakers Wednesday, including Del. Chris Head, who called it a “train wreck” during a virtual House floor speech.
                        “If this policy change is to be undertaken, it has to be undertaken prudently, and I understand the enormous pressure on the majority party to make this change right now. I understand that opposing immediate legislation and legalization is going to anger many of your constituents. And I understand that taking the time to do this right might possibly even lead to charges of racism,” he said.
                        “But we have to do this right. And doing it right takes time.”
                        Legalization advocates have long touted the righting of past criminal justice wrongs, eliminating illegal market activity and generating additional tax revenue when they’ve pushed for overhauling state cannabis laws.
                        “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk,” Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory compliance software that helps states track cannabis sales from seed to sale, previously told CNN.
                          “I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
                          Cannabis sales in states that have legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes totaled about $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to top $30 billion by 2024, according to data from BDS Analytics, which tracks dispensary sales.

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                          Politics

                          Biden’s planned pick for ATF director a fierce advocate for gun control

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                          By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
                          Updated 9:30 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                          Washington (CNN) — David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s planned nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a long history at the agency and sports credentials in gun control advocacy sure to excite firearm safety groups.

                          If confirmed, Chipman will lead the agency that enforces gun laws at a critical point in Biden’s early tenure, as the President looks to take fresh action on the issue in the wake of two deadly shootings last month.
                          “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said last month. The President plans to announce new executive actions on guns Thursday, a person familiar with the plans said.

                            Longtime ATF special agent

                              Chipman, if confirmed, would return to the agency where he worked for 25 years as a special agent.
                                He lists “Violent Crime Reduction Strategist,” “Certified Explosives Specialist” and “Interagency Liason Specialist” among his specialties on his Linkedin profile, and Giffords notes his expertise includes ghost guns, the gun industry, law enforcement and assault weapons.
                                In the President’s first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, Biden will direct his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official. Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online.
                                The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
                                In recent years, the bureau has become most visible in the aftermath of mass shootings around the US and at other crimes involving firearms. But the agency has a broader scope than just guns.
                                According to its website, ATF “protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
                                “We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology,” the bureau’s website states.

                                Gun control advocacy

                                After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he was “consulted frequently” by lawmakers considering gun control legislation, according to his Linkedin.
                                Chipman then served as senior vice president of Public Safety Solutions for almost three years before arriving at Giffords as a senior policy adviser in 2016.
                                It’s in these roles that Chipman’s voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
                                “As a former ATF special agent with more than 24 years of experience at the bureau, I know all too well how serious our gun violence problem is and how desperately the agency lacks for the law enforcement tools that are necessary to help curb this national epidemic,” Chipman wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed.
                                The country’s gun safety laws, he wrote at the time, “make it all too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — and since Congress has failed to address these gaps legislatively, ATF must chart a new course to combat the scourge of gun violence. This requires strong leadership.”
                                More recently, Chipman voiced support for limiting high-capacity magazines in a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour.
                                “Talking to any gun owner, a 100-round magazine is just not traditional. It’s not normal. And I can’t think of a purpose, beyond killing a lot of people, for having it,” he said. “So if the debate is, should it be 10 or what have you, it can’t be 100. And so I think there’s room where we can have progress, although we will not have perfection.”
                                  And in light of FBI records last summer showing US firearm background checks having skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chipman told CNN at the time: “My biggest concern involves the potential number of first time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun.”
                                  This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

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                                  Politics

                                  Andrew Giuliani, former Trump aide and son of Rudy Giuliani, says he plans for to run for governor of New York

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                                  By Devan Cole, CNN
                                  Updated 12:16 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                                  Washington (CNN) — Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says he’s planning to run for governor of the heavily Democratic state next year.

                                  “I plan to run,” Andrew Giuliani, who served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Wednesday.
                                  Giuliani’s gubernatorial bid could set up a high stakes, headline-grabbing showdown with Andrew Cuomo, should the embattled incumbent Democratic governor decide to seek a fourth term. But Giuliani would face a steep uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, and his candidacy could help hand another win to the party as his proximity to Trump would likely be seen as a liability in a state where the former President is widely unpopular.
                                    “I believe I can win the race,” Giuliani told the Examiner. “I think I’m the right candidate, and this is the right time to help change New York State, and we’ve got a playbook that works.”
                                      “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate, whether it’s going to be Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical (attorney general), Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” he said, according to the magazine.
                                            Asked if he expected Cuomo to seek reelection to a fourth term next year, Jay Jacobs, the state party chair and a close ally of the governor, demurred.
                                            “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I think that he’s more focused on getting through his current troubles, then seeing where he’s going to go,” he said. “These investigations are going to be critical in all of that. It’s hard to tell. I’m sure that, given his druthers, he’d like to run for reelection.”

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                                            Politics

                                            Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era

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                                            By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst & Supreme Court biographer
                                            Updated 9:07 PM ET, Tue April 6, 2021

                                            (CNN) — Justice Stephen Breyer, who may be nearing the end of his Supreme Court tenure, expressed concern on Tuesday about the standing of the high court and the possible erosion of public confidence in its decisions.

                                            In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law.
                                            “These are more than straws in the wind,” the 82-year-old Breyer said. “They reinforce the thought, likely already present in the reader’s mind, that Supreme Court justices are primarily political officials or ‘junior league’ politicians themselves rather than jurists. The justices tend to believe that differences among judges mostly reflect not politics but jurisprudential differences. That is not what the public thinks.”
                                              Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was “gradually built” over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election.
                                                “The public now expects presidents to accept decisions of the court, including those that are politically controversial,” he said. “The court has become able to impose a significant check — a legal check — upon the Executive’s actions in cases where the Executive strongly believes it is right.”
                                                  Some of Breyer’s most compelling opinions, it should be noted, have been written in dissent. In 2007, for example, he objected to an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts rejecting school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. Roberts said districts could not consider a student’s race when making school assignments to reduce racial isolation throughout the school district.
                                                  “This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret,” wrote Breyer, whose father, Irving Breyer, was a long-serving school board member in San Francisco. Breyer still wears the wristwatch his father received upon his retirement from the district. Breyer said the Roberts opinion threatened “the promise of” the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
                                                  Breyer said Tuesday that differences with his colleagues were based on their distinct views of the structure of the Constitution or how they interpreted statutes. He did not refer to instances in which his colleagues themselves have publicly questioned each other’s motives.
                                                    Breyer did allow that sometimes justices weigh public opinion or the future ramifications of a decision. And he acknowledged that the nine are products of their individual backgrounds and experiences.
                                                    Still, he said, “judicial philosophy is not a code word for ‘politics.'”

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