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Transcript: The Attack: Before, During & After with Donell Harvin & Clint Hickman

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MS. GOLD: Good afternoon and welcome to Washington Post Live. My name is Matea Gold, and I’m the national political enterprise and investigations editor here at The Post. For the last five months, a team of 75 journalists in our newsroom have been investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, looking at the causes, costs, and aftermath of the insurrection. Today, I am joined by two of the most compelling figures in the series we just published. Donell Harvin served as director of intelligence in D.C.’s Office of Homeland Security and is now at the RAND Corporation; and Clint Hickman is a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona. Gentlemen, welcome to you both and thank you so much for your time today.

MR. HARVIN: Thank you.

MR. HICKMAN: Thank you, Matea.

MS. GOLD: You both had an early view at some of the anger and disinformation that would come to drive President Trump’s supporters to Washington on January 6th. And let us start with that.

Donell, I’d like to hear from you what you saw early on that really made you alarmed. And particularly can you describe how President Trump’s December 19th tweet to be there, be wild, changed the threat landscape? How did that activate extremists online?

MR. HARVIN: Well, what we saw before the 19th was really a lot of the same threat information and intelligence that we had seen in November--October/November. It was the same groups basically sharing the same information about coming to the District. There were planned events. There was a lot of activity.

On--after the tweet, however, we saw an exponential rise not only in the number of individuals that were looking to come to District. There were planned events. There was a lot of activity. On--after the tweet, however, we saw an exponential rise not only in the number of individuals that were looking to come to D.C. to demonstrate but also the level--the talk of violence. We saw many what we call threats of concern--posts of concern, rather, with threatening information. And as we got closer and closer, we saw them sharing information, tactics, techniques, and procedures--we call them TTPs--that would lend itself to essentially an attack.

MS. GOLD: Clint, meanwhile, on the other side of the country you were seeing your own early signs of warning of what was to come. As Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, your board was responsible for certifying the election results. Walk us through what you started seeing right--even on election night and the immediate days’ aftermath. What gave you pause? What made you worried?

MR. HICKMAN: Well, before I answer that question, Matea, I just also wanted to reach out and say what a--what a great story. I read it on Sunday. I hope your readers read it all the way through and it’s really, really great to be with Donell and reading his story. There were heroes involved with this, and I want to thank him for his service to the--to the country and what he does for a living. It was fantastic.

Yeah, we--the Election Day, the issue started that night. I started to get some phone calls even while I was watching election returns. The Maricopa County went to a different format with our balloting style, and we started seeing some just educational questions being asked about that. And then--and then it went into a full-fledged fury that night directly after, Fox News announced the winner so early, which was kind of shocking to me. It still is. And we started to see some people come to our ballot center and start--and start protesting even as early as that same night. And it’s--and it started to gain speed and traction with inviting a lot more people, including congressional people going to our MCTEC Center. So, this--we’ve been at this now for a year, and it's difficult.

And our board really started to take fire as we were getting ready to canvas the vote, and we thought we were answering questions with that three-hour canvas, thinking of everything we possibly could think of to ask our elections team, did we cover everything thoroughly and according to the state law. And we felt good about it that night, and off we went again. It seemed to answer no questions for the public.

MS. GOLD: And, Clint, you personally supported President Trump and worked for his reelection and then came under a pressure campaign by allies of the president and even fielded phone calls from the White House itself. Tell us a little bit about what that was--that experience was like.

MR. HICKMAN: Yeah, I did. I endorsed President Trump. I voted for him twice and worked hard, especially in the rural areas of the state. And I did my best for them. That’s what I thought was to do, was to work for the top of the ticket. I’m a Republican, and I have been since my first vote was Ronald Reagan in 1987, I believe. So--or I’m sorry, '88, on his '88 run. I’m sorry--again, '84. Good grief. So, yeah, I supported the candidate--President Trump got around, and then not so much the allies of President Trump that I was working with alongside the election but the people--the people that were to the side of it, the people that said that they were trying to help. That’s where--that’s where I got in--and by all means, I was chairman of the time, but my entire board was taking shots from people both in our state and outside of the state trying to get us to do things that we would not do.

MS. GOLD: And, Donell, we’ve described a pretty dramatic scene in part one of the series on December 30th when a young analyst in your office presents to you the worst-case scenarios of what he thinks could happen on January 6th. Tell us a little bit about what you found most chilling about his presentation and how you then tried to raise alarm bells.

MR. HARVIN: Well, a week before any major event, we engaged in something that it’s called an intelligence community red teaming. That’s when you sit down, you look at all your assumptions, and we have someone in the--in the team that challenges your assumptions and gives you a scenario that’s quite difficult.

In this particular case, our lead analyst who was one of our junior analysts, keep in mind--because we had thought that this event would be like the other events we’d seen before up until December 19th--our lead analyst created a picture in which there were multitudes more people than we had expected. Many of them were armed and sequestering weapons and as a diversionary tactic, two improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, were placed near the Capitol to draw law enforcement out to cut their numbers in half and using that as a diversionary tactic, the crowd would attack the Capitol. This was predicted by this analyst a week before it actually happened.

Based on that, plus based on some of the threat--the new threat information that was just emerging on a constant basis, we decided to elevate our concerns. I reported that to my immediate supervisor, who was--who is the director of homeland security and emergency management--that we were seeing actors coming into D.C. that we had never seen before. Not only were we seeing groups converging or saying they were going to converge into D.C., but we were seeing these unholy alliances between groups that generally don’t really exist in the same space. They’re very single-issue groups and they don’t really converse with each other. So, it’s very dangerous, particularly when you talk to about the armed militia.

MS. GOLD: You describe in the story how you became so concerned that you even warned area hospitals to stock up on blood. Tell us a little bit about how personally concerned you were headed into this day. I mean, was this keeping you up at night?

MR. HARVIN: It was actually--it was keeping me up at night, so much so that I reached out to Mike Sena, who’s quoted in the piece. He’s my counterpart and also my mentor in this space. So I reached out all the way to California to seek advice on a Saturday after New Year’s. And I remember the conversation vividly. I was in the grocery store, and I said, Mike, is it me? Because I was relatively new in my position. I was in my position for two years. Am I overly concerned for no reason, or is there a cause there? And after speaking with Mike very briefly, he felt that there was concern because he was also seeing that in his jurisdiction, and he suggested we get a few of the Fusion Centers together to have a conversation about it. It was keeping me up at night. As you--as you reported on Monday, January 4th, I started calling as many people as we can--we can talk to to give briefings, and we put that junior analyst who was our lead analyst in front of everybody. One thing that we didn’t report is that we even briefed out the medical examiner’s office. So we were talking to the hospitals about preparing for a mass casualty event, and then literally right after we were talking to the medical examiner’s office to prepare for a mass fatality event as well.

MS. GOLD: And what about these threats made you feel that this wasn’t just sort of business as usual, people online spouting off sort of, you know, claims of what they were going to do? What made you feel that it was serious and this was something that really needed to be responded to with urgency?

MR. HARVIN: Quite frankly, it’s the actors. These armed militia are serious players. They are not to be--they’re not to be--their capabilities aren’t to be doubted. They’re well trained. They’re well organized. Many of them have former law enforcement or military background. And we--once again, these are groups that we had never seen come to the District of Columbia. We know they’re out there. We monitor them. But they’re not really our concern because they don’t really impact our area of responsibility. When we start seeing armed militia come to a city that does not allow you to have arms, you have to make a quick decision. A, are they leaving their arms at home and laying them down and coming to the city peacefully? Or are they bringing their arms and trying to sequester them, and then that’s exactly the latter what we saw online, is suggestions, recommendations on how to sequester long guns and pistols and how to come into D.C. with your arms without being spotted by police.

MS. GOLD: Clint, I want to take you back to the moment when the Board in Maricopa sat down together to certify Joe Biden’s win in the county. You had come under immense pressure yourself and your fellow supervisors. How did you feel at that moment? Did you know what was going to happen, and what did you think was going to happen after the certification?

MR. HICKMAN: Yeah, so it’s always--so when you’re a chairman, you set the agenda and you put things up for a vote. But we’re a board of equals representing five different districts. So as a chairman, I was wanting to make sure that I was getting our board members their questions answered using staff time. But I wanted to show the public. If you watched our canvas, three hours of questions and answers sessions, all the way to culminate in a vote. And there were--there was pressure campaigns going on to try to get different counties not to canvas the vote, to throw it back. But there was just no reason that we could see. It either becomes a thing about trust, about the people that you have hired to do these jobs, about the people that worked in these jobs, both Republicans and Democrats, some people performing volunteer civic duty. I knew we had so many eyes on it. And Arizona does elections really, really well. And because I was a chairman during a pandemic, there were so many different concerns about public health that I just really had to throw myself into. So basically, it was nerve-wracking, that three hours. I didn’t know for sure how my colleagues were going to vote. There’s open meeting laws. You can--you can discuss things, but you cannot discuss how you’re going to vote. So I just didn’t know at that point if I had provided enough information for my board. So I would have to say that we took our vote.

Meanwhile, at the auditorium on the days as well as that vote, there were people banging drums, threatening violence against us, beating on the door and trying an intimidation technique, and it just didn’t work. We took the vote, and we went 5-0 to canvas and certify the vote for Maricopa County and to send it--and to send it to the governor and the attorney general and the secretary of state. So I would have to just say when I was driving home, there was a great sense of relief because there was five votes--Democrat and Republican--that had their questions answered and felt good and confident in the certification of that vote.

MS. GOLD: Let’s talk a little bit about both of your experiences on the day of January 6th. Donell, let’s start with you. We report in this series there were more flares of signs of potential violence in the morning that day. When did it first hit you? What did you see that morning that first got you worried, and how serious did you start thinking this was going to be?

MR. HARVIN: Well, I realized on my drive in. I was--as soon as I hit the District on the highway I was surrounded literally. It felt like rush hour traffic, and it was--obviously it’s not a busy day that day. And every--there were a lot of out of state plates, and everyone had Stop the Steal flags, stickers, or kind of indicators that they were going to the rally. And I called into my Fusion Center, and I said to my deputy, I said this is going to be pretty big. And he said we’re getting reports of that coming from north and south as well. And so, you know, we prepared for a really busy day.

I do want to take a step back and say that one of the reasons why we were really concerned about having a mass casualty or mass fatality event is because we were concerned not only of violence against the Capitol and staff there, but we were also concerned about interpersonal violence with counter protesters. We had seen a lot of people on the other side of the spectrum over the last year in D.C., and we were hoping that they would stay home. And they actually did. The mayor several days before January 6th put out an announcement to the public and asking them to stay home, and I believe that saved lives. It could have been a lot worse.

MS. GOLD: There’s a moment on January 6th when you’re actually watching some of the early footage in your command center of protesters starting to breach the Capitol. Take us to that moment a little bit. What was that like for you after all this anxiety and worries about where was this going--where this was going, to see that breach start to happen.

MR. HARVIN: It was horrific because we have the ability to see what’s going on before the cable networks and news networks are able to do that. And so the first thing I did was I reached out to my intel staffer that we had embedded there--two days before, by the way--into the Capitol with their operation, because we figured that things would go bad. I reached out to him. He didn’t answer his phone. I reached out to my counterpart in the Capitol Police’s intel unit, and I took screenshots of what I was seeing, and I said--I said, my friend, they’re breaching. And he said, we know, we know. And that’s all I got from him.

And then it got really--it escalated relatively quickly, and I ran down the hall to where my other executives in our agency were meeting in the command center, and I said they’re breaching the Capitol. They were watching the cable news networks that didn’t show that because the cable news networks were downrange. They weren’t actually there to see that. And you know, they said, well, that’s not what we’re seeing. I said you’re going to see that soon. And so I kind of ran back and brought my boss with me, and he was seeing what we were actually seeing about five or six minutes before the news networks even carried it. So we had advanced notice, and we were able to kind of activate, start a lot of phone calls, and get things rolling and get them some extra help.

MS. GOLD: And as your analyst had predicted in a worst-case scenario, there actually was a diversionary event. Walk us through a little bit about what happened at the RNC and the DNC that day and how that affected the response.

MR. HARVIN: That was an out of body experience for me personally. When the phone rang and my deputy who was deployed in the field said, Donell, you’re not going to believe this but there are two improvised explosive devices or what we believe are improvised explosive devices, IEDs, that have been placed in the RNC and DNC. They’re being investigated now. And a large law enforcement detachment has been sent there to investigate. And he said--and he ended with is this really happening? And I couldn’t answer him because I was stunned. It was--it was--you know, you never want to be right when it’s a bad outcome. So I’ll leave it at that. It was great analytical work on behalf of my team. They’re really the stars of the operation. They thought through multiple potential threat scenarios. We practiced them internally. We shared the information that we could, and we were ready. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t optimal.

MS. GOLD: Clint, meanwhile, you headed into January 6th with sort of a sense of relief, I understand, a feeling that this pressure that had been on you as chairman during this incredibly difficult election year was about to be lifted because you were handing off your gavel at a ceremony to one of your fellow supervisors. Take us through a little bit about what happened to you on January 6th and what happened when you went home that day.

MR. HICKMAN: Well, I--first of all, I kind of want to reflect real quickly on what Donell said about the confluence of people from out of state and when it comes to guns. And Arizona has been an open carry state for a long time, and I’m so used to seeing that in the grocery stores and around. I will take back a couple days earlier when there was a protest at the state capitol about the election, and I got to see some of these people deciding to bring automatic weapons, you know, long rifles to the state capitol. And I don’t ever view that as intimidation. It’s meant to be intimidating, but to me it’s just like--it works in reverse. It’s just--most of the time you find out those people aren’t even from Arizona either, walking around with a gun. So I don’t view it--they try to use that as intimidation, but I can’t imagine what the national Capitol with that kind of scene that was going on that Donell had to live with and see that--see that going down.

Yeah, just real quickly, I--January 6th I was viewing as an event. We knew--we knew they were going to vote for the presidential electors in Washington, D.C., but that is a big time for a chairman either incoming or outgoing. And I had lived through a pandemic, making decisions, 8:00 in the morning decisions every day with our group, some of the--some of the worst things about public health. And I was reflecting more on that, not so much the election and the experience we were going through there, because we had so many things to think about. And I was just beat. I was--I was exhausted. And I knew that we had a new chairman coming in, and I just felt a little bit of relief driving in that I was going to now be able to just put my--instead of my hand being on the tip of the spear, now it’s--now it’s going to be on a shield with my other guys and let another chairman lead and do what he feels best when it comes to these arguments about the election. I was looking forward to supporting them.

And then just real quickly, that went down. Great things said. I felt really good driving home until I saw the protection unit at my house, and then I was called, talked to them, called into my house by my wife and said look what’s going on, on TV, and seeing, you know, a place, the Capitol, with windows being shattered and doors being knocked in and their protection units being assaulted. I walked out and talked to my protection group, and they were saying--you know, they were trying to get me to leave my house. And a dad protects his house, protects his kids, and I didn’t want to leave. I saw those images, walked out. The sheriff’s office said please, for us, leave your house tonight. And I said I’m out. I understand that. Let’s go. And we left our house that night.

MS. GOLD: And the threats have not subsided in Maricopa County after January 6th. In many ways you’ve been at the center of the storm of the post-January 6th attacks on voting after state Republicans forced a ballot review of the vote there in Maricopa County, which of course came up with the same numbers as the official tally that Joe Biden won the county. But tell us a little bit about what it’s been like to be at the center of that storm in the past year. It doesn’t feel like this has gone away for those of you who’ve been dealing with questions coming from the president and his allies about voting. And I know you fielded death threats as well as other officials in the county. What has that been like, and what do you think that says for folks who are considering public service, and what are the ramifications?

MR. HICKMAN: Yeah, it’s been a rollercoaster for us. And you know, as many calls as I get about threats, I get probably twice as many about support--how can we support you, what can we do for you. But there’s a lot of people that want to--they don’t want to take the abuse, and they want to stand down. And that’s the problem I’m seeing with people calling me about public service.

I took this job to be a public servant. My family business has been here. I’ve grown up here in the West Valley, and this was a perfect position for me to be in to actually help run a government that can support the growth of the West Valley in the right ways and the West Valley’s growing. There’s other people that want to do that and want to work for their communities all the way down to schoolboards, but everybody is reading about these threats from schoolboards to on down, and it’s become so political and it’s all based on what’s going on, you know, at one federal contest.

And I shudder to think of the people that this type of behavior is enticing to become--to be in politics, because people like I have always viewed it this is about the last thing we want to put our families through. And I’m an optimist, and I try to do the best I can to get great people to be involved in government, either by public service, by being elected, or by even working. And we are losing competent election workers across the United States because they just can’t take the threats. And you know what? If I--if I can say that this--I do it gladly and take the threats for them so I can keep people--good, solid people working in those departments doing their civic duties, Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, I’m going to do my best.

MS. GOLD: Donell, I’d love to get your thoughts on the lessons of January 6th. The Washington Fusion Center that you ran is one of 80 such centers around the country that were set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to better leverage intelligence. Why do you think the intelligence you and others gathered in advance of January 6th went unheeded, and what can the system do better to prevent this from happening the next time?

MR. HARVIN: Before I answer that, if you could allow me, one of the--my lessons learned from January 6th is that there’s a lot of unsung heroes [audio drop].

MS. GOLD: We’re having some technical difficulties. Go ahead, Donell.

MR. HARVIN: So one of the lessons that I learned on January 6th is that if it weren’t for people like Clint, we would not live in a democracy. You know, people like Clint, civil servants who show up and do this very difficult work at personal--at times personal expense to their own safety really, really define what a democracy is and the rule of law.

The network of Fusion Centers worked. If you understand the dynamics of the intelligence enterprise, our job is to collect, analyze, and disseminate information. Very few Fusion Centers have an operational responsibility, boots on the ground to do anything. And so post-9/11 it was important that the state and local government share information, be good stakeholders of that information, and purvey that information to all the key players that need to have that. And that’s what happened. In fact, it happened in an unprecedented way. And so I’m really proud of the Fusion Center network. I think it’s a great model. I think it’s underutilized in many places. And I think that what we’ve seen not just, you know, leading up to January 6th but what we’ve seen over the last few years is really a degradation of public trust and public institutions. And so hopefully we can get to a place that not only intelligence and information is consumed and appreciated but also science, because a lot of these things are wrapped in one as far as public trust.

MS. GOLD: Clint, in the 60 seconds we have left, I’d love your thoughts. What are the lessons you take away from January 6th?

MR. HICKMAN: The lessons I take away from--Donell, thank you very much for that compliment, and I’m going to extend that out, your words, to the thousands of people that are still dealing with this election and the--and the aftermath. So thank you very much. There’s a lot of people working hard still in these categories. In fact, it’s Election Day for off year election today here in Arizona, and our recorder in our group is working on that.

So I want to--I think the lessons to me, watching people breach the Capitol--and I was there at the Capitol one year before with my family, walking in those hallowed halls and thinking of all the great people that have walked those halls and had the opportunity. It’s--to me it’s almost like people decided to break into a church, and the church is the American democracy that they broke into. I would just wish that people still get that innate feeling that they had watching these scenes. Their stories might change in their head right now, but we need to become Americans again. We are Americans first. I never walk up to cocktail parties and ask what party people are from. I know they’re Americans. And we need to--we need to reach deep into our core again and say, hey, you know what, it’s time to--it’s time to become one again.

And I have a--I have a son that’s 16 and another that’s 14. I don’t--I don’t want to send my son off to war to fight some foreign enemy to feel like an American again, and I damn sure don’t want him fighting fellow Americans to prove just how American he is. It’s just not the way to go. So let’s get back to being American again.

MS. GOLD: Wow, a very powerful conversation and comments from both of you. Thank you so much. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. Thank you for participating in our forum and in the larger report. I’m Matea Gold. As always, thank you for watching. To read our full investigation about the January 6th attack on the Capitol, please go to WashingtonPost.com. And to see future interviews, please go to WashingtonPostLive.com. Thanks so much for watching.

[End recorded session]

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