Then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was inside Democratic National Committee headquarters on Jan. 6, 2021, when a pipe bomb was discovered outside the building, according to four people familiar with her movements that day.
Capitol Police began investigating the pipe bomb at 1:07 p.m., according to an official Capitol Police timeline of events obtained by POLITICO. The timeline says that Capitol Police and the Secret Service evacuated an unnamed “protectee” at approximately 1:14 p.m, seven minutes later. The four people, among them a White House official and a former law enforcement official, confirmed that Harris was the Secret Service protectee identified in the timeline, which has circulated on Capitol Hill.
Harris’ presence inside the building while a bomb was right outside raises sobering questions about her security that day. It also raises the chilling prospect that the riots could have been far more destructive than they already were, with the incoming vice president’s life directly endangered. Federal law enforcement officials have faced harsh criticism for failing to anticipate the chaotic scene around the Electoral College certification one year ago, despite receiving a host of warnings about possible chaos.
The DNC bomb threat was neutralized at 4:36 p.m., according to the timeline. Another pipe bomb discovered at the RNC was neutralized at 3:33 p.m. No suspects have been arrested so far in relation to the bombs.
The FBI has described both bombs as “viable” and said they “could have been detonated, resulting in serious injury or death.” Authorities say both bombs were placed by a single suspect the night before the Capitol attack. The RNC bomb was placed in an alley behind the building, and the DNC bomb was placed near a park bench. The FBI recently issued a new call for help seeking the suspected pipe bomber, who was captured on video in the vicinity of the DNC and RNC buildings.
Harris’ DNC evacuation on Jan. 6, as authorities raced to respond to the bomb threat, has not been previously reported. She occasionally used party headquarters to conduct nongovernment business as the vice presidential nominee and later in advance of the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration — a standard practice for elected officials in both parties. Aides had previously declined to reveal her location during the attack, citing security reasons.
Harris alluded to her absence from the Capitol during the breach as she delivered televised remarks Thursday, though she was cryptic about her location.
“I had left, but my thoughts immediately turned not only to my colleagues, but to my staff who had been forced to seek refuge in our office, converting filing cabinets into barricades,” she said.
The discovery of the pipe bombs was a crucial driver of the chaos on Jan. 6. Law enforcement leaders say it diverted a large number of already-outnumbered officers just as a mob of Donald Trump supporters was breaking through barriers at the Capitol and preparing to force their way inside. More than 140 officers were injured in the mayhem, and more than 725 members of the mob have been arrested over the past year, facing charges that range from assaulting police, conspiring to obstruct Congress and parading unlawfully on Capitol grounds.
Before Thursday’s anniversary, Harris had said little about her movements during the siege. In news reports shortly afterward, she described being at the Capitol complex for an intelligence briefing in the morning and then leaving for something previously planned. She didn’t return to the Capitol until the riot had ended and the joint session of Congress resumed.
Uncertainty about Harris’ whereabouts as a mob breached the Capitol building briefly bubbled up in a handful of criminal cases connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection. In dozens of indictments, the Justice Department had erroneously described Harris as being present inside the Capitol during the attack, and only recently discovered the error. DOJ has since issued numerous superseding indictments to correct the mistake.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.