DC National Guard commander says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot
Pentagon officials restricted the commander of D.C. National Guard’s authorities ahead of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the commander told The Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday.
Normally, a local commander would be able to make decisions on taking military action in an emergency when headquarters approval could take too much time.
But Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, told the Post the Pentagon took that power away from him ahead of the Capitol riot, which meant he could not immediately deploy troops when the Capitol Police chief called asking for help as rioters were about to breach the building.
“All military commanders normally have immediate response authority to protect property, life, and in my case, federal functions — federal property and life,” Walker told the Post. “But in this instance, I did not have that authority.”
Instead, Walker needed approval from then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller before deploying troops.
Asked how quickly guardsmen could have arrived at the Capitol, which is two miles from the D.C. National Guard’s headquarters, without the higher-level approval, Walker told the Post, “With all deliberate speed — I mean, they’re right down the street.”
The restriction was placed on Walker after the Guard’s heavy-handed and widely criticized response to racial justice protests over the summer. In June, hundreds of guardsmen from around the country poured into the nation’s capital at former President Trump’s request, despite objections from local authorities.
A National Guard helicopter also hovered low over protesters as a show of force, a move that drew widespread scrutiny and rebuke.
“After June, the authorities were pulled back up to the secretary of defense’s office,” McCarthy told The Post. “Any time we would employ troops and guardsmen in the city, you had to go through a rigorous process. As you recall, there were events in the summer that got a lot of attention, and that was part of this.”
Authorities were pushed back down to Walker ahead of President Biden’s inauguration, McCarthy added.
The inauguration saw an influx of roughly 25,000 guardsmen from around the country to create a security zone around the Capitol and National Mall for fear of a repeat of the Jan. 6 insurrection. About 5,000 guardsmen are expected to stay around the Capitol through at least mid-March as the Senate holds Trump’s impeachment trial for the charge of inciting the riot.
The House Appropriations Committee was set to receive closed-door testimony Tuesday from McCarthy and Walker as it probes security failures that led to the Capitol riot.
Pentagon officials, local D.C. authorities and the Capitol Police have traded accusations about who is to blame for the Guard’s slow response once rioters breached the Capitol. The Pentagon has said Capitol Police denied offers of Guard assistance in the days before the attack. A Pentagon timeline of events says it took roughly an hour and a half to approve the Guard’s deployment on Jan. 6 after requests were made by Capitol Police and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
Also under scrutiny in the Pentagon’s response is the phone call in which then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested assistance. Sund previously told the Post that Army staff director Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt said on the call he didn’t like the “visual” of the Guard policing the Capitol, a comment Piatt initially denied before backtracking last week.
Walker told the Post there was discussion of optics but said he could not attribute the comments to a particular person.
“There was some talk about optics, but I can’t assign that to one person,” Walker said. “From the Army leadership, there were quite a few people on the call. … It’s clear that somebody talked about the optics. Who said that? I’m not sure.”