It remains the greatest unsolved mystery related to the events of January 6: Who placed pipe bombs near the headquarters of both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee the night before?
Shortly before the joint session of Congress convened at 1 p.m. to debate the results of the 2020 Electoral College vote, a woman on her way to do some laundry looked down and spotted a device in an alley adjacent to the RNC building. Karlin Younger ran to notify security guards, who then called police. Law enforcement conducted a search of the area and located another device outside the DNC building.
Panic quickly ensued. “I just had to evacuate my office because of a pipe bomb reported outside,” Representative Elaine Luria (D-Va.) tweeted at 1:46 p.m. “I don’t recognize our country today and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans.”
“I’m sheltering in place in my office,” Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) tweeted at the same time. “The building next door has been evacuated. I can’t believe I have to write this.”
The media immediately suggested the explosives had been planted by someone loyal to the president; the New York Times noted in its breaking report that the bombs were found “just a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, which Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed on Wednesday afternoon.”
Federal authorities promised a full-throated investigation. During a press conference on January 12, 2021, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin and Washington FBI Field Office chief Steven D’Antuono emphasized the seriousness of the pipe bomb threat. “They were real devices. They had explosive ignitors,” Sherwin told reporters. D’Antuono announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identity and arrest of the perpetrator. The FBI, D’Antuono warned, was “looking at all angles, every tool, every rock is being unturned” in pursuit of the bomber.
A few months later, D’Antuono made another desperate plea for the public’s help in his investigation and doubled the reward. “We know it can be a difficult decision to report information about family, friends, or coworkers but this is about protecting human life. We need your help to identify the individual responsible for placing these pipe bombs to ensure that they will not harm themselves or anyone else.”
But despite sophisticated surveillance tools including geofence warrants that were at D’Antuono’s disposal—methods the FBI continues to use to this day in its ongoing manhunt for January 6 protesters—the trail went cold. So, too, did the national news media’s interest in the story. The January 6 Select Committee completely ignored the pipe bomb threats, relegating the story to two mentions buried deep in the final report’s appendix.
D’Antuono’s bluster notwithstanding, his office conducted a halfhearted inquiry at best. And now the public knows why. During an interview with the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, D’Antuono disputed claims the bombs were planted to divert law enforcement presence away from the Capitol just before protesters assembled outside the building, a view commonly shared at the time.
Not only did the FBI fail to identify the individual, D’Antuono admitted the FBI does not even know the “gender” of the bomber. He also backtracked on numerous public statements insisting the devices were viable, indeed, deadly. Pressed by Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) to explain how the bombs were operable considering the use of a one-hour kitchen timer attached to the metal tube, D’Antuono admitted that they couldn’t have detonated during January 6. “I don’t know when they were supposed to go off. Maybe they weren’t supposed to go off.”
In perhaps the most alarming portion of D’Antuono’s testimony, he revealed that the FBI does not have a complete account of cell phone use in the area on January 5, data that would easily result in tracking the perpetrator’s identity. In what Revolver News’ Darren Beattie described as “the dog ate the geofencing data” excuse, D’Antuono claimed data from one provider was “corrupted” and unusable.
“It just—unusual circumstance that we have corrupt data from one of the providers. I’m not sure—I can’t remember right now which one,” D’Antuono testified. “But for that day, which is awful because we don’t have that information to search. So could it have been that provider? Yeah, with our luck, you know, with this investigation it probably was, right. So maybe if we did have that—that data wasn’t corrupted—and it wasn’t purposely corrupted. To my knowledge, it wasn’t corrupted, you know, but that could have been good information that we don’t have, right. So that is painful for us to not to have that. So we looked at everything.”
And as if to ward off warranted skepticism about the idea that cell phone data tied to one of the animating moments of January 6 just happens not to exist, D’Antuono told the committee he did not “want any conspiracy theories” surrounding the conveniently missing records.
But, of course, D’Antuono does not need to fuel any “conspiracy theories” about the pipe bomb incident. Beattie has raised numerous questions about the FBI’s handling of the investigation, such as apparently doctored video of the suspect’s movements. It’s also unclear, according to D’Antuono’s testimony, whether the FBI interviewed the woman who first found the device near the RNC. As I reported last year, Younger worked at the time for an agency called FirstNet, a public-private partnership between AT&T and first responders. The month before the Capitol protest, FirstNet received a $92 million grant from the FBI—which is either a wacky coincidence or another way in which FBI surrogates participated in the events of January 6.
Surely with such a professional connection between his agency and Younger, D’Antuono easily could have invited her to answer a few questions. But somehow, his “no stone left unturned” investigation did not include a sit-down with the one individual responsible for finding the bomb and notifying police. Why not?
House Judiciary Committee chairman James Jordan (R-Ohio) wants answers to that and many other unanswered questions. Jordan is asking FBI Director Christopher Wray to explain why, 890 days after the FBI launched the investigation, his agency is still left empty-handed.
The answer, at this point, seems obvious: They want it to be.