The commander of the D.C. National Guard said it took more than three hours for senior military leaders to approve a request to send troops to the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots, despite a “frantic” plea from the Capitol Police chief for immediate emergency assistance.
Major General William Walker, speaking in a Senate hearing Wednesday, said he and then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund were initially told in a call with Army officials that deploying Guardsmen to the Capitol wouldn’t be “good optics“ and that it could “further incite the crowd.“
Walker told a joint hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees that “unusual” chain-of-command requirements and sluggish communications delayed sending the National Guard as former President Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, told reporters outside the hearing that military leaders need to provide answers about why and how “so many things went wrong” between Sund’s first call for National Guard help at 1:30 p.m. until after 5:08 p.m., when Walker finally received the go-ahead to deploy.
“Totally unacceptable,” Blunt said.
Wednesday’s hearing is the latest in a series of inquiries into intelligence and security failures on the day that a crowd at a Trump rally in Washington turned into a deadly mob that stormed the Capitol, threatening lawmakers. There is added urgency for the inquiry, as national law enforcement officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, warn that domestic extremists are intent on carrying out additional attacks.
Melissa Smislova, acting under secretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, told senators that law enforcement agencies are warning about domestic extremists plotting attacks on March 4 and 6, confirming earlier reports from the Capitol Police.
Jill Sanborn, from the FBI’s counterterrorism division, told Wednesday’s hearing that there continues to be a “persistent and evolving” threat from anti-government and white supremacist extremists. She warned that lone actors are particularly hard to identify before they commit acts of violence.
Walker’s testimony Wednesday was highly anticipated, as lawmakers seek to reconcile differing accounts from other officials about what happened that day. He said the first “frantic call“ from Sund came at 1:49 p.m., informing him “that the security perimeter at the Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters.”
‘Violence and Destruction’
“Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many Guardsmen as I could muster,” Walker said.
Walker said he alerted “senior leadership of the request” for backup immediately after speaking with Sund.
“The approval for Chief Sund’s request would eventually come from the acting Secretary of Defense and be relayed to me by Army Senior Leaders at 5:08 p.m. – three hours and 19 minutes later. We already had Guardsmen on buses ready to move to the Capitol,” Walker said.
Walker said the District of Columbia National Guard arrived at the Capitol at 5:20 p.m. and “we helped to re-establish the security perimeter at the east side of the Capitol to facilitate the resumption of the Joint Session of Congress.”
“I was sickened by the violence and destruction I witnessed that fateful day and the physical and mental harm that came to the U.S. Capitol Police officers and MPD, some of whom I met with later that evening and I could see the injuries they sustained,” Walker told the committee.
The Pentagon‘s timeline for the events of Jan. 6 was provided in Wednesday’s hearing by Robert Salesses, an assistant secretary of defense, including when the D.C. National Guard was authorized to mobilize to the Capitol.
Salesses told the committees that when Capitol Police ordered the evacuation of the Capitol complex, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called the Secretary of the Army “to request an unspecified number of additional D.C. National Guard personnel.” He confirmed that it was 1:49 p.m. when Sund called Walker to request immediate National Guard assistance.
Salesses said by 3:04 p.m., the acting secretary of Defense approved “full activation of the D.C. National Guard to provide support, and the Secretary of the Army directed D.C. National Guard personnel to initiate movement and full mobilization.”
In response to a question from Homeland Security Chairman Gary Peters, Salesses said between 3:04 and 4:10 p.m., then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy “wanted to understand” details of how the National Guard was being sent to the Capitol.
“He was asking a lot of questions” including such things as how they are being deployed and how they would be armed, Salesses said.
It took until nearly 5 p.m. to review the force’s equipping and responsibilities, confer with D.C. police officials and receive the acting defense secretary’s approval, at which point the National Guard personnel could depart the Armory for the Capitol.
He said once the approval was finally received, “we were there in 18 minutes.”
Part of the questions in Wednesday’s hearing focused on concern over the “optics” of having armed National Guard forces deployed at the U.S. Capitol.
Walker said this was one concern he heard from senior Army leadership in the Jan. 6 call that initially denied a request to deploy the National Guard.
“I was frustrated,” Walker said. “I was just as stunned as everyone else on the call.”
“The Army senior leaders did not think it looked good” to have uniformed guardsmen in front of the Capitol, Walker said, describing that initial call. “They further thought it would incite the crowd.”
Despite Walker’s testimony, Salesses told Rules Chair Amy Klobuchar that Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, the Army staff director, denied ever raising “optics” as a reason not to immediately send guardsmen on Jan. 6 to respond to the mounting emergency.
“General Piatt told me yesterday, senator, that he did not use the word ‘optics’,” Salesses said.
Klobuchar asked Walker to respond. The National Guard commander said: “There were people in the room with me, on that call, who heard what they heard.”
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