WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials placed “unusual” restrictions on the DC National Guard ahead of the Capitol riot, its commander told Senators on Wednesday, saying military commanders’ fears of a repeat of aggressive tactics used during the riot. Racial justice protests last year slowed decision-making and wasted time as violence from a pro-Trump mob escalated.
Military and federal security officials detailed in a joint Senate committee hearing the additional security blackouts that led to the failure to quell the January 6 mob attack. Major General William J. Walker, the commander of the DC National Guard, said he did not. receive authorization to mobilize troops more than three hours after requesting it.
The delay he described was longer than previously known and was revealed during the last hearing of lawmakers investigating the attack.
Days before the riot, the Pentagon had stripped General Walker of the power to rapidly deploy troops, he said. He said he was unable to move troops even from one traffic stop to another without permission from Ryan D. McCarthy, the secretary of the military. After General Walker obtained approval for the deployment, the guard arrived at the Capitol a few minutes later at 5:20 p.m. and helped re-establish the security perimeter on the east side of the building.
General Walker said he could have had 150 soldiers in the complex a few hours earlier. The violent outburst that lasted for nearly five hours injured nearly 140 police officers and left five dead.
“That number could have made a difference,” General Walker said of the possibility of deploying his troops earlier.
“Seconds counted,” he added. “Minutes counted.”
Responding to questions from senators, General Walker said he believed there was a double standard in military decision-making, pointing out the differences between the quick and aggressive tactics he was allowed to use during protests. last spring and last summer of the murders of black men by the police. and the slower response to violence from Trump supporters. He said military officials had expressed concerns about the optics of sending troops to Capitol Hill to subdue the Americans.
“Senior military leaders didn’t think it looked good” and didn’t think “it would be a good lens,” General Walker said. “The word I kept hearing was ‘optics’ of it.”
When asked if a similar debate took place last year, General Walker said no.
“It was never discussed in the week of June,” he said. “It was never discussed on July 4, when we were supporting the city. This was never discussed on August 28, when we supported the city.
“Did you think this was unusual?” asked Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the Democratic leader of the Homeland Security Committee.
“I did it,” General Walker said.
The restrictions were put in place because of the Guard’s widely criticized crackdown on mostly peaceful protesters in Washington in June, said Robert G. Salesses, a senior Defense Department official during his testimony at the ‘hearing.
He said Mr. McCarthy and other military officials, including Christopher C. Miller, the acting Defense Secretary, delayed their decision to deploy forces on Jan.6 because they wanted to know more about it. that the troops were going to do. They had assumed deployment authority over the DC National Guard to avoid a repeat of last year, Mr Salesses said.
“Secretary Miller wanted to make the decisions about how the National Guard was going to be employed on that day,” Mr. Salesses said.
General Walker recounted how the day unfolded as Trump supporters protesting Congress’ certification of election results turned into violence. He said he received a “frantic call” at 1:49 p.m. from Steven A. Sund, then Capitol Police Chief, about half an hour before the rioters crossed the Capitol.
“Chief Sund, voice trembling with emotion, indicated that there was a serious emergency on Capitol Hill,” General Walker said. “He asked for immediate help from as many available National Guardsmen as I could find.”
He said he immediately alerted army leaders and even put troops on buses “ready to go to Capitol.” But Miller didn’t approve the request until 3:04 p.m., after military officials expressed concerns about the optics. General Walker was not informed that Pentagon officials authorized his request until 5:08 p.m. – three hours and 19 minutes after receiving Chief Sund’s plea.
“I can’t stop thinking about the hours that have passed, the people who have been injured and the officers whose lives have changed forever,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chair of the Settlement Committee. Senate. “We have to understand why, on that day, it took so long for the Department of Defense to deploy the Guard.”
After hearing General Walker’s testimony, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the committee’s senior Republican, told reporters he wanted to hear from senior military officials.
“We will certainly have questions for Secretary McCarthy and for Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller,” Blunt said. “It’s definitely going to take an opportunity to ask them about their perspective from their perspective on why this decision-making process has gone so terribly wrong.”
The testimony came at the last bipartisan investigative hearing of the Homeland Security and Rules Committees. In a hearing last week, Chief Robert J. Contee III of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department said he was “stunned” by the slow deployment of the National Guard on January 6, noting that, then Even as the violence escalated, the military had expressed reluctance to send troops.
At this hearing, the first joint oversight meeting of the two committees, three former senior Capitol security officials deflected responsibility for the failures that contributed to the riot, blaming the other agencies on each other. and at one point even to a subordinate for the blackouts that allowed hundreds of Trump’s supporters to storm the Capitol.
Officials said the FBI and the intelligence community failed to provide adequate warnings that rioters were planning to take over the Capitol and that the Pentagon had been too slow to allow Guard troops to assist them. Police forces overwhelmed after the start of the attack.
In addition to General Walker and Mr Salesses, the officials who testified on Wednesday were Melissa Smislova, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and Jill Sanborn, the FBI’s deputy director of its division of fight against terrorism.
After the attack, law enforcement officials focused on rioters from militias and extremist groups as part of their investigation. Ms Sanborn testified that few of the 257 rioters arrested so far were the subject of an FBI investigation prior to the attack.
“I can only remember one of the people who were investigated before,” she said.
The testimony came as Capitol Police said they were increasing security this week on Capitol Hill, warning of “potential threats to members of Congress or the Capitol complex.”
Testifying at a House hearing, Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, told lawmakers his agency had received “worrying” information about possible threats to the Capitol by Thursday. But she said the information was sensitive to law enforcement and that she would only share it as part of a closed-door briefing. She assured committee members that the police would be ready.
Chief Pittman noted threats to lawmakers were “through the roof,” increasing by nearly 94% in the first two months of this year in 2020.
After January 6, the Capitol Police Directorate is asking for nearly $ 620 million in total spending, an increase of almost 21% from current levels to pay for new equipment, training and 212 additional officers for assignments. such as a permanent safeguard force. Chief Pittman also told lawmakers she would work with the Capitol architect to design more “physical hardening” of the building after it was overrun by rioters.
Carl Hulse contribution to reports.