Commentary: The Pipe Bombs Before January 6 Is a Capital Mystery That Doesn’t Add Up

by Julie Kelly


The newly disclosed video shows a dark SUV pulling up to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., at 9:44 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2021. It sits for several minutes until a uniformed man with a bomb-sniffing dog enters from the right and steps up to the vehicle. The driver complies with his command, the dog sniffs inside and outside the car which is soon allowed to enter the parking garage. The man and his dog exit back to the right.

This scene is unremarkable except for one detail: The uniformed man and his trained canine came within a few feet of where a plainclothes Capitol Police officer would soon discover a pipe bomb that had been planted there the night before. The bomb, which the FBI has described as viable and capable of inflicting serious injury, along with a similar one found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, would appear to be the most overt act of violence perpetrated on Jan. 6.

Responding to the video discovered by this reporter, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, the Georgia Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee subcommittee now conducting a separate inquiry into Jan. 6, asked, “How could a bomb-sniffing dog miss a pipe bomb at the DNC? We’ll add this to our long list of unanswered questions and continue getting to the truth.”

The number of anomalies surrounding this still unsolved case continues to grow. These include:

  • The failure of the Secret Service detail assigned to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, who was inside DNC headquarters when the bomb was discovered, to find the device before her visit.
  • The fact that the bomb at RNC headquarters was discovered by a government contractor with ties to the FBI.
  • That law enforcement officials repeatedly described the bombs as “highly dangerous” but also said they couldn’t have detonated on their own because of their cheap kitchen timers.
  • That cell phone data that might help locate the perpetrator has been deemed corrupted.
  • That the FBI’s geofence warrant to obtain cell phone data from Google gives no indication the warrant included the Capitol Hill neighborhood on the night of Jan. 5 – the time and location the pipe bombs were apparently planted.
  • That the FBI assistant director leading the stalled investigation had previously been in charge of the investigation into a kidnap plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in which the bureau tried to get alleged conspirators to build bombs.
  • That an FBI whistleblower has testified he was told the bombs were inoperable – a claim that seems supported by video showing authorities allowing children to cross the street toward the DNC bomb after it was discovered.

Discovery of the new video featuring the ineffective bomb-sniffing dog has also generated skepticism about the timing of the day’s events: The RNC pipe bomb was discovered at 12:40 pm, just thirteen minutes before the first breach of police lines on the west side of the Capitol and 20 minutes before House and Senate members convened to consider the electoral college results of the 2020 election – creating a narrative of grave threat as the protests turned violent. How might the day have unfolded if the bombs had been discovered many hours before and large swaths of the city had been shut down? And why, given the devices’ proximity to the U.S. Capitol and the joint session of Congress that would involve every U.S. Senator and House member, did law enforcement not send investigators with bomb-sniffing canines to the Capitol immediately?

Vanished Without a Trace

The greatest mystery may be why official Washington has lost interest in this alleged act of domestic terrorism. In the three years since Jan. 6, the DOJ has conducted what Attorney General Merrick Garland describes as a criminal investigation proceeding at an “unprecedented speed and scale” into the protests. Casting a wide dragnet for Capitol protesters across the country, federal and local authorities in Washington have tracked down and prosecuted more than 1,300 defendants, almost all of whom were unarmed, including 62 individuals so far this year.

Yet the perpetrator of what could have been the only deadly attack by a civilian that day appears to have vanished without a trace. He or she also seems to have slipped down the official memory hole. Although the Washington FBI field office recently issued a statement saying the “suspect may still pose a danger to the public or themselves” and upped the reward to $500,000, Washington appears to have lost interest in the pipe bomb whodunnit.

The now defunct Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the U.S. Capitol barely mentioned the pipe bomb threat in its final report; the committee did not include video of the incident or the suspect during any televised hearings. This strikes some observers as odd for two reasons: The pipe bombs seemed to offer the strongest evidence for the Committee’s case that Jan. 6 was an act of domestic terrorism, and the direct threat to the life of the vice president, who was at the DNC for nearly two hours as the device sat undetected outside the building.

The major news organizations that initially devoted significant space to promote the idea that a supporter of Donald Trump tried to blow up buildings near the Capitol on Jan. 6 have also lost interest in the case.

But a handful of outlets led by Revolver News stayed on the story. And the same media once fixated on the pipe bomber now considers poking holes in the government’s official story little more than right-wing conspiracy-mongering.

The government’s seeming ineffectiveness, however, and lack of forthrightness regarding an allegedly deadly plot filled with unanswered questions has also created a wellspring of distrust.

The presence of bombs in the nation’s capital as the joint session of Congress convened to debate the outcome of the Electoral College vote animated the notion that Jan. 6 represented an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by Trump supporters. Reports that two explosives were found just blocks from the U.S. Capitol initiated the first wave of panic that accelerated throughout the afternoon.

It began when a 37-year-old woman from Madison, Wisc., named Karlin Younger, who said she was walking to do her laundry near the RNC, discovered a device in an alley around 12:40 p.m. Although it is not clear whether the Jan. 6 committee interviewed Younger – her name does not appear in its final report – she gave numerous media interviews in the weeks and months following Jan. 6.

In November 2021, Younger told Business Insider, “When I cast my eyes down, I just saw something kind of metallic, and it was just a very passing glimpse, and all I thought is someone must have missed the recycling bin. And I was going to recycle it, because I’m about that life. I just looked, and it was so completely unbelievable. You’re not on high alert. You don’t think you’re under attack. I’m not in Iraq. This is Capitol Hill.”

She beckoned an RNC security guard whose name has not been made public to confirm her suspicions. “Holy shit, it’s a bomb!” Younger said he exclaimed.

The FBI interviewed Younger a few days later after she contacted the bureau’s Jan. 6 tip line. But it doesn’t appear she was interviewed again by the FBI.

The FBI story.

The FBI official leading the investigation, Washington FBI Field Office assistant director in charge Steven D’Antuono, told House Republicans he did not “recall” who discovered the device. Had the FBI come knocking again, Younger certainly would have consented to another interview. At the time, Younger worked for a public-private partnership called FirstNet, which provides interoperable broadband for first responders across the country. The month before Jan. 6, the FBI awarded a $92 million grant to FirstNet.

Authorities quickly dispatched officers to the DNC located a few blocks away. A similar device reportedly was found on the ground between two benches outside one of the building’s entrances at 1:07 pm.

In response, police immediately evacuated a few congressional buildings including the nearby Cannon House Office building. “I just had to evacuate my office because of a pipe bomb reported outside,” Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria tweeted at 1:46 p.m. “Supporters of the President are trying to force their way into the Capitol and I can hear what sounds like multiple gunshots. 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.”

The Capitol Police stated on Jan. 7 that both devices, which it said were “hazardous and could cause great harm to public safety,” were “disabled and turned over to the FBI for further investigation and analysis.” The FBI did not respond to a request for a report on the devices.

The topic of the pipe bombs was raised repeatedly during the Department of Justice’s first press conference a few days later. In their joint appearance on Jan. 12, D’Antuono and acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin were asked by CBS News reporter Catherine Herridge whether the pipe bombs were a diversionary tactic to redirect police away from the site of the protest, or if the devices intended to kill or maim individuals working in both buildings. Sherwin responded that both scenarios would be explored during the investigation but he emphasized that the devices were “real” and contained “explosive igniters.”

D’Antuono, who spearheaded the FBI’s Jan. 6 investigation including the pipe bombs, announced a $50,000 reward leading to the arrest of the perpetrator. “I just want to make that perfectly clear and that we’re looking at all angles in that. Every rock is being unturned, because we have to bring that person to justice or people to justice,” D’Antuono said.

By the end of January 2021, the FBI released grainy footage of a person the government believed to be the bomber and upped the reward to a total of $75,000 – and which now stands at $500,000.

An individual, wearing a hoodie, a face mask, gloves, and Nike gym shoes, is seen carrying a backpack around the vicinity of both buildings. FBI authorities said the suspect planted the devices sometime between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 5. Ashlan Benedict, head of D’Antuono’s ATF division, told CNN at the time that the bureau considered the investigation an urgent matter because the suspect “could potentially be building more bombs right now.”

Intense media coverage followed. On Jan. 29, 2021, the Washington Post published an extensive story on the pipe bombs, assigning five of the paper’s top reporters to investigate the timeline and obtain private security camera footage from surrounding property owners.

Months passed before D’Antuono’s office provided an update into the investigation. In September 2021, the FBI released more inconclusive security video obtained from a camera at the DNC showing the alleged suspect walking by the building and sitting on a bench next to where the bomb was discovered the next day. But the brief clip did not show the perpetrator removing anything from his backpack or placing a bomb on the ground.

By the third anniversary of the Capitol protest, the FBI was still empty-handed. D’Antuono himself had become a target of media and congressional scrutiny over his handling of the Jan. 6 investigation and his involvement in the FBI-orchestrated plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020.

FBI Director Christopher Wray had promoted D’Antuono from head of the Detroit FBI field office – the office responsible for the key FBI agents, informants, and undercover employees responsible for executing the entrapment operation – to head of the Washington FBI office in October 2020.

That case also involved the use of explosives. The FBI ran an undercover agent disguised as an explosives expert into the group of alleged kidnappers to lure them into attempting to buy components to build a bomb. Several of the men targeted by the FBI were arrested when the FBI’s lead informant drove them to meet the undercover agent acting as a bomb builder.

Under questioning by House Republicans in 2023, D’Antuono, who retired from the FBI after Republicans won control of the House in November 2022 to take a job in the private sector, appeared less confident about the threat posed by the pipe bombs than he had in public statements. Asked by Rep. Tom Massie whether a one-hour kitchen timer, a component of both devices, could detonate a bomb 17 hours after it was set, D’Antuono said it could not.

D’Antuono admitted he did not follow the “granularity” of his office’s inquiry into the pipe bomber case and also did not know if the FBI interviewed the person who discovered the device outside the DNC.

D’Antuono also testified that a search warrant failed to scoop up data of the alleged suspect, who is seen handling a cell phone on his walk in the vicinity. Stating the FBI did a “complete” geofence warrant for Jan. 6, D’Antuono disclosed that data from one company strangely was missing. “Some data that was corrupted by one of the providers, not purposely by them, right. 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. 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.”

Congressional Republicans say they were troubled by another aspect of D’Antuono’s testimony related to the allegedly corrupted file. While the FBI did issue a geofence warrant to obtain cell phone data from Google, there is no indication the warrant included Jan. 5 – the day the pipe bombs were allegedly planted.

Public reporting and court filings in Jan. 6 cases indicate the warrant identified three specific time periods on Jan. 6, resulting in the collection of data from more than 5,000 devices, but did not request records for Jan. 5.

“Mr. D’Antuono’s testimony raises concerns about the FBI’s handling of the pipe bomb investigation, more than 890 days following the placement of the pipe bombs. To date, the FBI has failed to respond to the Committee’s requests for a briefing regarding the investigation,” Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in June 2023.

Other aspects of the pipe bomb story started to raise eyebrows. After nearly a year of misleading judges and defendants, federal prosecutors revealed in late 2021 that Kamala Harris was at the DNC and not at the Capitol on Jan. 6; the government was forced to disclose her whereabouts to correct court filings that stated Harris was in the Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Harris left the Capitol following a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing and arrived at the DNC around 11:25 a.m. She remained inside the building until she was evacuated at 1:15 p.m.

The timeline generated even more head-scratchers. How did her security detail, which included Secret Service agents and D.C. Metropolitan police officers, miss the device sitting in relatively plain view?

Did the Secret Service fail to perform a sweep of the premises before she arrived? Even so, how did numerous law enforcement agents not see a pipe bomb laying on the ground just feet from her parked motorcade?

Further, security video posted this month by Revolver News showed law enforcement’s puzzling reaction to the discovery of the bomb at 1:07 p.m.

“The most striking feature of the footage depicting the discovery of the DNC bomb is the utter nonchalance of the Secret Service officials, Metro PD officials, and Capitol Police officers upon learning of the proximity of the bomb,” Darren J. Beattie of Revolver wrote on Jan. 18. “The Metro PD officers didn’t even bother getting out of their vehicles for about a minute after being informed of the bomb and proceeded to stand around in the most lackadaisical fashion imaginable once getting out of the vehicles.”

And according to Sean Gallagher, chief of the Protective Services Bureau of the Capitol Police, one of his plainclothes officers found the bomb after responding to the threat at neighboring RNC. “[One] of my counterintelligence teams that was doing enhanced sweeps around the DNC found a pipe bomb at the DNC as well,” Gallagher told the Jan. 6 committee in 2022. He also did not discuss with the committee Harris’ presence or any aid his division provided in ensuring her safe escape from the building.

Even more puzzling is the fact Harris never mentions the episode in her public statements, even though she has compared Jan. 6 to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Reporters also appear uninterested in the subject; Harris, more than three years later, hasn’t been asked about it.

The Secret Service also is mum on the issue – and under suspicious circumstances. Text messages belonging to at least two dozen officials and agents from Jan. 5 and 6 were deleted at the end of January 2021 and never recovered. Jan. 6 committee investigators, when first informed the messages were purged during “a pre-planned, three-month system migration,” according to an agency spokesman, issued a subpoena for the missing records in July 2022, but the request came up empty. Committee investigators did not continue their inquiry further.

This represents another aspect of the congressional investigation that did not reach an edifying conclusion. A suspected Trump supporter planted a bomb that could have killed the first female and person of color to hold the office of the vice presidency – and it only merited one sentence in an 840-page report.

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Julie Kelly is an independent journalist covering the weaponization of the U.S. Government against her citizens, Follow Kelly on Twitter / X.


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