WASHINGTON – The Acting Capitol Police Chief on Thursday formally called on the Defense Department to keep thousands of National Guard troops on Capitol Hill beyond their scheduled departure next week as it put warns of increased threats against lawmakers.
The request came only after Yogananda D. Pittman, the interim chief, called on Congressional leaders to intervene after the council that oversees his department failed to grant his request for an extension – even though police did alerted the public to another possible assault on lawmakers this week.
This possible plot by an unidentified militia group to target lawmakers on Capitol Hill on March 4 did not materialize on Thursday. But the disconnect between the Capitol Police chief and the three-member board that oversees the agency highlighted the bureaucratic structure and communication breakdowns that have hampered security, including slowing demand from the National Guard to respond. storming the complex on January 6. .
In a letter sent to House and Senate leaders from both parties, Chief Pittman said she had asked the Capitol Police Council to extend the declaration of emergency that prompted the deployment, which began during of the assault on the Capitol, beyond March 12, when it is scheduled. expire.
“To date, the USCP has not received the authorization required to request an extension of National Guard support,” Chief Pittman wrote to the four top Congressional leaders, including President Nancy Pelosi of California and the Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
She then asked them to intervene with members of the board of directors – particularly the acting Senate Sergeant-at-Arms – to obtain approval to request an extended Guard presence. Chief Pittman said the House Sergeant-at-Arms approved his request.
“In eight days, the National Guard must leave the Capitol complex,” she wrote, and maintaining the troops would require a formal request authorized by the council. “Therefore, we respectfully request your assistance in obtaining the required clearance.”
Later Thursday, Capitol Police announced they had received permission to formally ask the Defense Department to extend the Guard’s stay. Police cited a 93% increase in threats against lawmakers in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period last year, and said in a statement the agency was “ extremely grateful for the support from the Ministry of Defense and National Guard provided since January 6. “
A senior Defense Department official admitted that the Pentagon received the request.
The warning of another potential attack Thursday by a militia group prompted House leaders to vote on police legislation starting Wednesday night so lawmakers could leave Washington earlier than planned. But the Senate continued its legislative work on Thursday, as Democrats hoped to get President Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion aid package through the chamber by the weekend.
An FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin warned that extremists inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon had discussed plans to target lawmakers on Thursday and take control of the Capitol. Some of the proponents of the theory seemed to have clung to March 4 – the initial inauguration date set in the Constitution – as the day Donald J. Trump would be reinstated to the presidency with military help and revive his office. crusade against the enemies of the country.
The threat prompted Capitol Hill police to increase the number of officers in the building, which had been surrounded by new fences, topped with barbed wire, after the Jan.6 assault.
Concerns over another attack about two months after the January 6 riot reflected heightened concern about domestic terrorism, which FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said was “metastasizing across the country.”
The possible extension of custody was reported earlier by the Associated Press.
Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan whose state has provided part of the troops, said Thursday she heard from her contacts in the Guard that the request was for a 60-day extension.
“National Guard contacts tell me that the United States Capitol Police have requested a 60-day extension of the Guard’s mission in and around the Capitol,” Ms. Slotkin said.
She added: “It is essential that members of Congress are informed of what is behind these decisions.”
Chief Pittman also said Thursday that the Capitol Police Council recommended that the department begin removing fences around parts of the complex from Monday, followed by the removal of other fences by March 12. .
The appetite for a prolonged deployment of the Guard at the Capitol lost the support of members of Congress. Some Republicans have demanded for weeks the removal of fences around the Capitol.
“It’s scandalous, because it’s not their job. That’s not their job, ”Oklahoma Republican Senator James M. Inhofe said of the Guard’s deployment for months longer. “We have the Capitol Police. This is their mission. “
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, told reporters that she believes politicians should defer to the police for how long tightened security procedures should remain in place. She added that she would like to see the number of soldiers reduced.
“You have to listen to the police,” she said. “I just think we have to do what’s safe.”
After January 6, the Capitol Police Department requested 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.
Adam goldman, Glenn thrush and Matthew Rosenberg contribution to reports.