Officers set for grilling over mob attack

Officials charged with protecting the Capitol the day a mob overwhelmed police and forced the evacuation of lawmakers are expected to be grilled at a Tuesday hearing as Congress begins a public examination into the security lapses of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The much-anticipated hearing — a collaboration of the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees — will provide lawmakers their first chance to confront officials on the available intelligence and the day’s monumental security failures.

Three of the officials slated to testify — former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger — resigned in the days immediately following the attack.

A fourth witness, Robert Contee, the acting chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, will also appear before the Senate panels on Tuesday.

The grilling moves to the House on Thursday, when the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Capitol Police will hear testimony about the attack from Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, and Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief.

“There is a lot that we have to unpack,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who heads the Senate Rules Committee, told CNN on Monday.

Klobuchar previewed some of the questions, including concerns related to the long delay in deploying the National Guard; the communications meltdown that left countless police officers to fend for themselves as the mob moved in; and the glaring inefficiencies bedeviling the chain of command structure that governs Capitol security.

She said the concerns are bipartisan, but signs of conflict between the parties over who is to blame for the attack by a pro-Trump mob, an event that led to the former president’s second impeachment, are already glaring.

Democrats continue to blame Trump for “inciting” the attack, while Trump’s allies are racing to the former president’s defense with charges that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should have done more to protect the Capitol complex.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the former Homeland Security Committee chairman, has rejected characterizations of the mob attack as an “armed insurrection,” while hammering Pelosi’s choice of Russel Honoré to lead an assessment of the Capitol’s security apparatus. Honoré, a retired Army general who coordinated the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, has been publicly critical of the Republican lawmakers who tried to overturn the presidential election results, leading to charges that he’s too partisan for the assignment.

“He’s the last person that ought to be heading any kind of investigation,” Johnson told Fox News on Sunday.

Republicans also are balking at draft legislation Pelosi is circulating that would create a bipartisan independent commission — comprised of seven Democrats and four Republicans — to probe the insurrection. Republicans want the panel evenly split, 4-4, similar to how the 9/11 Commission was arranged.

Ahead of the pair of hearings, Pelosi’s office has offered a more detailed timeline, first reported by The New York Times, of what transpired on Jan. 6 and why hours elapsed between the time Capitol security officials requested help from the Pentagon and when the first National Guard troops arrived to help put down the riot.  

Sund issued a statement on Feb. 1 that on Jan. 4, two days before the attack, he had asked the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, Irving and Stenger, for permission to request assistance from the National Guard. But his request was rebuffed, and Irving told him he was concerned with the “optics” of a military force guarding the Capitol, Sund said.

By 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, as Congress began the process of certifying President Biden’s election victory, Sund said the situation outside the Capitol was deteriorating. He quickly called D.C. Metro police to send help and at 1:09 p.m. told the two sergeants-at-arms he desperately needed the National Guard to be deployed.

But it wasn’t until 1:40 p.m. — more than 30 minutes later — that Irving approached Pelosi’s chief of staff, Terri McCullough, in the Speaker’s Lobby behind the House chamber and asked permission to call in the National Guard, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, who provided a timeline to The Hill. 

McCullough immediately entered the chamber, climbed the rostrum and passed a note to Pelosi, who was presiding, at 1:43 p.m., according to a C-SPAN recording of the proceedings. The Speaker approved the National Guard request and asked if then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) needed to approve it, too; he did, McCullough said. Pelosi told her to seek McConnell’s approval.

McCullough called her Senate counterpart, McConnell chief of staff Sharon Soderstrom, but couldn’t reach her. So, McCullough called Irving, who informed her that he and Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, were already meeting with McConnell’s team. McCullough joined that meeting in progress where she reiterated the Speaker’s approval for seeking immediate National Guard support.

“The failure of the nation’s law enforcement apparatus to fully understand the gravity of the situation coupled with the President’s dramatic and deliberate incitement to violence led to the failure of any and all plans previously briefed to the Congress,” Hammill said in a statement. “In the room that day, there was agreement among the frustrated leadership staff present that [Capitol security leaders] should have asked for the National Guard’s physical deployment to protect the U.S. Capitol Complex well in advance of January 6th.”

“The Speaker expects security professionals to make security decisions and to be informed of those decisions,” Hammill said.

In a closed-door hearing last month, Pittman had offered her “sincerest apologies” for the department’s failure to protect the Capitol and acknowledged that two days before the assault, top police officials knew “there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”

Her first public appearance before Congress on Thursday comes at a fraught moment when she finds herself under fire from hundreds of her own rank-and-file officers.

Last week, members of the Capitol Police union overwhelmingly voted that they had no confidence in the leadership of Pittman and six of her top lieutenants. More than 90 percent of the 657 officers who voted said they had lost confidence in Pittman, an assistant chief for intelligence operations whom union leaders said had failed to act and protect her officers despite publicly acknowledging leaders knew there was a “strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target” on Jan. 6.

One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died from injuries sustained that day. Another from the department, Officer Howard Liebengood, took his own life days later, as did D.C. Metro police officer Jeffrey Smith.

But the finger pointing in the Capitol Police department is going both ways. Just days after the no-confidence vote, Capitol Police leadership said its Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the actions of 35 officers who were working on Jan. 6 and had suspended six of them with pay.

Video also has emerged of some officers engaging in questionable behavior, including opening a barricade so rioters could approach the Capitol and an officer snapping a selfie with a rioter inside the building.  

Pittman has informed officers that anyone found to have violated the department’s rules of conduct “will face appropriate discipline,” but Capitol Police Labor Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou has slammed the internal probes as a “witch hunt” by top brass “to divert the attention away from their significant leadership failures of January 6th.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Capitol breach Capitol police Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ron Johnson
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