Capitol Police chief apologizes, admits to department’s failures in riot
The acting Capitol Police chief on Tuesday offered a formal apology to Congress for the agency’s security failures during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by a mob of former President Trump’s supporters, acknowledging police failed to adequately prepare despite knowing in advance that armed militia groups and white supremacists posed a threat.
“I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the department,” Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, testified during a briefing with members of the House Appropriations Committee.
“On Jan. 6, in the face of a terrorist attack by tens of thousands of insurrectionists determined to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, the department failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours,” Pittman told lawmakers.
Pittman was not in charge of the Capitol Police force on Jan. 6 or in the days leading up to the riot. She has been serving as acting chief since Jan. 11, following the resignation of former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who stepped down shortly after the riots.
Pittman said that Capitol Police knew in the days before the riot that militia groups and white supremacist organizations would be part of the efforts to protest Congress formally certifying President Biden’s Electoral College victory. She also said that they knew some participants intended to bring weapons.
“We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target,” Pittman said. “The department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough.”
Pittman said Capitol Police made some preparations in anticipation of the potential for violent protests on Jan. 6. She testified that the police force required all available officers to be working that day, increased the number of Civil Disturbance Units from four to seven, activated its SWAT team and established a new security perimeter.
In total, Capitol Police had more than 1,200 personnel on duty during the attack. But Pittman said it was “no match for the tens of thousands of insurrectionists,” many of whom, she noted, were armed.
Pittman also confirmed that members of the Capitol Police Board initially declined a request from Sund on Jan. 4 to declare a state of emergency and authorize a request for National Guard support.
Sund said in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month that he informally contacted the D.C. National Guard to see how many people could be sent to the Capitol on short notice. Sund said that the now-former House sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving, wasn’t comfortable with the “optics” of formally declaring an emergency ahead of the expected protests over the presidential election certification.
Irving, like Sund, resigned after Jan. 6, as did his Senate counterpart, Michael Stenger.
The Capitol Police Board consists of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, while the Capitol Police chief serves in a non-voting capacity. But at least one member of the board said Tuesday that they weren’t in the loop about Sund’s request.
J. Brett Blanton, the Architect of the Capitol, said in a statement that his office does not have any record of Sund making a request to the Capitol Police Board for an emergency declaration and that there was no board meeting.
“While then-Chief Sund may have engaged in conversations with other members of the Board, no such conversation occurred with the Architect or any AOC employee involved in Board matters,” Blanton said.
Pittman confirmed that Capitol Police received “immediate assistance” from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, which sent about 100 officers within minutes of the outer perimeter being breached by the rioters. She also said that Sund asked the Capitol Police Board to authorize calling in the National Guard, but wasn’t granted the authorization for over an hour.
Pittman identified multiple other areas in which the Capitol Police could have made better preparations, such as providing officers with easy access to additional supplies to help disperse the mob; doing a better job of following lockdown procedures that were ordered shortly before the mob breached the Capitol; and improving the police radio system, which she said experienced communications issues during the attack that made it difficult for officers to receive information about what was happening and how to respond.
She said that the department is making some changes in the wake of the attack, including providing additional training for officers on civil disturbance policies. Pittman acknowledged that many officers are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after working on the front lines. One officer, Brian Sicknick, died after he was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher while attempting to contain the mob, while more than 80 Capitol Police officers in total were injured. Another officer, Howard Liebengood, died of suicide days after the attack.
Four other people, including a woman who was shot by a Capitol Police officer while attempting to breach the House chamber, also died.
Pittman acknowledged that part of the security challenge stemmed from the Capitol campus being designed to be open to visitors. Since Jan. 6, the Capitol perimeter has been surrounded with eight-foot global fencing and fortified with thousands of National Guard members assisting Capitol Police with guarding the complex day and night.
“In my experience, I do not believe there was any preparations that would have allowed for an open campus in which lawful protestors could exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and at the same time prevented the attack on Capitol grounds that day,” Pittman said.
Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, testified on Tuesday that the Capitol’s security posture should change going forward, telling lawmakers that “we must harden this campus.”
Blodgett suggested creating a system in the future so that sergeant-at-arms staff and Capitol Police can be notified “in real time” to help retrieve lawmakers and staff in crisis, like those who were barricaded in their offices during the insurrection, to help improve the overall failures of communications.
“Whether it was insufficient or conflicting intelligence, lacking ability to translate that intelligence into action, insufficient preparation or an inadequate ability to mobilize partner agencies for immediate assistance, a series of events, once thought unfathomable, unfolded allowing our most sacred halls to be breached,” Blodgett said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier this month named retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to lead a review of the Jan. 6 attack with a focus on “security infrastructure, interagency processes and procedures, and command and control.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said after the briefing that “it is now obvious that intelligence agencies had ample evidence an angry mob would descend on Washington” but that law enforcement agencies didn’t act on the intelligence or adequately prepare.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing funding for the legislative branch, said that members of the National Guard would remain until Capitol officials determine a new long-term security posture. For example, Ryan suggested that “there’s probably a very good chance” that the Capitol perimeter is moved outward.
“It’s going to be that balance that you have at a Capitol like ours, a state capitol, parliaments all over the world, where you want people to have some level of access to their government but at the same time feel protected,” Ryan told reporters.
Aside from Pittman and Blodgett, the briefing also included Ryan McCarthy, the former Army secretary; William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard; Robert Contee, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department; and Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office.
Updated at 3:16 p.m.