Justice Department officials considered briefing Congress on January 5 about expected “unrest” in Washington that week, but ultimately chose not to, according to records obtained by CREW. DOJ leadership also opted not to issue a press statement on January 5 about the agency’s “demonstration prep.”

The heavily-redacted documents, obtained in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show Trump DOJ officials weighing “potential briefings” and a “DOJ statement” in the days preceding the deadly attack on the Capitol. In one email sent on January 4, Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) employee Kira Antell laid out three options for possible DOJ briefings and statements. Each option is redacted in the email released to CREW.

“Given the risks associated wit[h] [redacted], OLA’s strong recommendation [redacted],” Antell concluded.

The next day, Department of Homeland Security officials learned of the possible DOJ-led congressional briefing and sought to participate. 

In a January 5 email, DHS Office of Legislative Affairs Senior Advisor Sharon Eshelman wrote to Antell and other DOJ personnel that the “Director for DHS Ops just mentioned to me on a call the potential for an interagency briefing to Congress TODAY in advance of the DC unrest expected this week.”                              

“Are you all working on something like this? If so, would you mind looping us in, as DHS Ops would want to participate on behalf of our Department given their coordination capacity,” Eshelman added.

Antell’s response, while partially redacted, suggests DOJ was still considering whether to issue a press statement. The unredacted text does not reference a congressional briefing.

Eshelman forwarded Antell’s email to DHS’s Director of Operations Coordination Christopher Tomney, writing “I’ll forward you the statement if/when DOJ sends it my way and keep you apprised of any other updates.”

Internal DOJ emails show that the idea for a January 5 press statement was proposed by then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue. 

On the evening of January 4, DOJ’s Acting Director of Public Affairs Marc Raimondi emailed Donoghue a draft of the statement, writing “[redacted] said you wanted a statement drafted for DOJ that should go out tomorrow….Please let me know if you have any edits.” Raimondi’s draft statement is redacted.

Later emails suggest there was a discussion about the draft statement between Raimondi, Donoghue, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and Donoghue’s chief of staff John Moran, though the discussion is redacted. A separate email, sent from Raimondi to Moran on the morning of January 5, lists “DOJ demonstration prep statement” as a “thing[] for today we will need to deal with.” 

Ultimately, DOJ did not release any press statement on January 5 about expected unrest on January 6. And there is no indication DOJ led or coordinated any inter-agency congressional briefing on January 5. 

The Trump DOJ’s reasons for scuttling these plans may lie beneath the redactions in the documents released to CREW. But the agency—under President Biden’s administration—has invoked the deliberative process privilege, a form of executive privilege, to keep that information secret. The Justice Department will have to justify its privilege claims in CREW’s ongoing litigation. 

The new revelations add to press reports and congressional findings critical of DOJ’s January 6 preparations. Senior Defense Department officials told congressional investigators that DOJ, despite being “designated as the lead federal agency in charge of security preparations and response on January 6,” did “not conduct interagency rehearsals or establish an integrated security plan,” “never established a point of contact” and “did not effectively coordinate a response during the attack.” Former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said he was not aware of “any actions DOJ took to coordinate the federal response on January 6.”

While many have praised Rosen and Donoghue for privately rebuking Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, their role in the Trump administration’s failure to safeguard the Capitol amid open and repeated calls for violence on January 6 deserves closer scrutiny. If Trump DOJ officials made a calculated decision not to alert Congress and the public about anticipated threats ahead of January 6, then the American people deserve to know why. Hopefully, the January 6 Select Committee can fully investigate these questions and share its findings with the public.

Header photo by Tyler Merbler under Creative Commons license.

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