Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob

Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob
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Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman made her first public appearance before frustrated lawmakers Thursday in a heated hearing where she acknowledged that the police force was unprepared for the violent mob on Jan. 6 and that its protocols broke down.

Pittman was joined by acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett in the hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee, during which members from both parties frequently alleged that Capitol security forces were doing more to protect their jobs than to explain how they could better respond to a similar attack in the future. 

Pittman said the Capitol Police incident command protocols were “not adhered to as they should have” when a large mob breached the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from counting the Electoral College votes.

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And while Pittman acknowledged that new security measures like the tall fencing around the Capitol are “not popular,” she said that they will have to remain while Congress continues to face security threats.

Pittman revealed that some of the militia groups involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection have threatened to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many members as possible” when President BidenJoe BidenSouth Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified' Biden attends tree lighting ceremony after day out in Nantucket Senior US diplomat visiting Southeast Asia to 'reaffirm' relations MORE delivers a joint address to Congress. The address has yet to be scheduled.

"Based on that information, we think that it's prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities," Pittman said.

Blodgett added that Capitol security forces would need to improve their system for evacuating lawmakers who might be trapped in their offices.

“When my staff was notified, my staff or the Capitol Police, or both together worked to extract the individuals from where they were trapped, but the system was dependent on my staff being notified,” he said.

Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerIt's time for Congress to guarantee Medigap Health Insurance for vulnerable Americans with kidney disease Washington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines Trump criticizes McCarthy for treatment of Greene in new book MORE (R-Wash.) brought up video footage that seemed to indicate the Capitol Police officer who shot an insurrectionist trying to break into the House chamber appeared unaware a tactical team was on its way. She also recalled observing herself on Jan. 6 that police officers didn't appear to be receiving directions over their radios from Capitol Police leadership.

“I'm hearing a lot of process and a lot of almost explaining why there's a problem versus hearing how you're going to make sure that there is a command center, who speaks into the earpieces of the officers and provides direction and leadership,” Beutler said, noting the Capitol Police union’s recent no confidence vote in Pittman.

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Ohio Republicans swing for fences in redistricting proposals Ohio redistricting commission gives up on US House map MORE (D-Ohio) questioned how planning by the Capitol Police could be “so lacking” given that angry protests by former President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE’s supporters over the Electoral College proceedings were widely anticipated. 

"How could the security planning policies and procedures, apparently, be so lacking, and ill prepared? This event was widely promoted on social media weeks in advance, and your own report specifically shows the department was monitoring these posts," he said. 

Pittman stressed that the department had boosted some of its efforts in response to intelligence that protesters might be armed and that security forces should expect a more intense protest than at previous pro-Trump rallies. Still, the Jan. 3 report she referenced categorized the probability of civil disobedience or arrests as “remote, highly improbable, or improbable.”

She also said Capitol Police were not prepared for the sheer number of people that arrived at the Capitol.

“The department also did not ignore intelligence that we had, which indicated an elevated risk of violence from extremist groups. To the contrary, we heightened our security posture. There's evidence that some of those who stormed the Capitol were organized, but there's also evidence that a large number of everyday Americans who took on a mob mentality, because they were angry and desperate. It is the conduct of this latter group that the department was not prepared for,” she told lawmakers. 

Pittman estimated that well over 10,000 protesters appeared on the Capitol lawn while about 800 people entered the building.

The hearing highlighted many of the same fault lines on display at a Senate hearing Tuesday, when former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving couldn’t even agree about whether the National Guard was requested in advance.

Pittman couldn’t nail down which day the request was made, saying only, “I know the request was denied.”

Blodgett echoed his predecessor's testimony that the National Guard assistance was an “offer” and stressed that the Capitol Police Board, comprised of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, would need to collectively approve the request for assistance.

That triggered an emotional response from Chairwoman Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Democrats scramble to figure out shutdown strategy Democrats take on Manchin, make renewed push for family leave MORE (D-Conn.) who called for reforms to the board’s structure.

"It's like your appendix. It's just there. It doesn't have any real function," DeLauro said.

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Pittman also departed from Sund’s claim that he requested National Guard assistance at 1:09 p.m. on the day of the riot, instead saying phone records show the former chief made multiple attempts to seek backup.

“Chief Sund first reached out for National Guard support to the House sergeant-at-arms at 12:58 p.m. He then spoke to the Senate sergeant-at-arms to make the same request for the National Guard at 1:05 p.m. And he repeated his request to the House sergeant at arms at 1:28 p.m., speaking again with them at 1:34, 1:39 and 1:45,” Pittman said.

Lawmakers made a number of demands of the Capitol Police and House sergeant-at-arms going forward.

Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Rising prices undercut Biden agenda Virginia emerging as ground zero in battle for House majority Republicans look to education as winning issue after Virginia successes MORE (D-Va.) pressed Capitol Police to hold regular press briefings, a commitment Pittman refused to make. Capitol Police have not had a press briefing since the Jan. 6 attack.

“My priorities would still be my employees, first and foremost, and I know that I am to respond appropriately and timely to the oversight committees that govern, not only the U.S. Capitol Police but the Capitol Police board,” Pittman said.

“All right, so you’ll answer our questions but not those of the press,” Wexton responded.

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Ryan, the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, later told reporters that he’s “happy to recommend” adding language to a Capitol Police funding bill pushing the agency to brief the media.

It won't be long before Pittman will publicly face lawmakers' questions again about the Capitol Police's operations. She will appear before Ryan's panel again next Wednesday to testify about the Capitol Police's budget for the next fiscal year, where discussion of provisions to enforce greater transparency could come up.

There was also bipartisan irritation over the fencing that remains around the Capitol.

“Sacrificing the openness of this institution is not the only way to keep the Capitol secure. I don't like that there's a fence around the Capitol Complex that makes the seat of democracy look like a military base, and don't like that it costs almost $2 million a week,” Herrera Beutler said.

Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiNevada lawmakers approve maps giving edge to Democrats GOP lawmakers introduce measure in support of Columbus Day Democratic poll finds Cortez Masto leading Laxalt by 4 points in Nevada Senate race MORE (R-Nev.) went as far to say that Capitol Hill feels "like working in a minimum-security prison right now."

Pittman said the enhanced security measures will remain in place as long as the threat is justified. National Guard troops are expected to remain until at least mid-March. 

"We have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed," Pittman said.

Updated at 4:43 p.m.