DC Guard chief agrees ‘optics’ slowed deployment during Capitol riot

Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard
Greg NAsh

Army officials on a call with law enforcement officials Jan. 6 expressed concerns about the optics of deploying the National Guard to the U.S. Capitol, the commander of the D.C. National Guard said Wednesday.

“The Army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could incite the crowd,” Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. Guard testified to a pair of Senate committees Wednesday.

On the call, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee and then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund “passionately pleaded for the District of Columbia National Guard to get to the Capitol with all deliberate speed,” Walker said.

The Army officials told those on the call “that it would not be their best military advice to have uniformed Guardsmen on the Capitol,” he continued. 

Then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was not on the call, Walker said, adding they were told McCarthy was with then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.

Walker’s account backs up testimony last week from law enforcement officials, including Contee and Sund, who said the Army was reluctant to immediately deploy the Guard in part because of concerns about the optics of having armed troops at the Capitol.

“I just keep imagining the scene,” Sen. Army Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Wednesday in response to Walker’s testimony.

“The whole country, the whole world is seeing this on TV,” she said. “You’ve got the police line breached at this moment, you have smashed windows, you have insurrectionists going through the police lines, you are on the phone, everyone is seeing this on TV, and they’re not immediately approving your request.”

At issue is a call on the afternoon of Jan. 6 after the Capitol had been breached by rioters where local and Capitol law enforcement officials requested immediate assistance from the National Guard.

In his testimony last week, Contee said he was “stunned” at the Pentagon’s response on the call, a reaction Walker echoed Wednesday.

“I was just as stunned as everyone else on the call,” Walker said.

Walker specifically recalled that director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt and Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, a deputy chief of staff in the Army, expressed concern about optics.

Neither Piatt nor Flynn, who is the brother of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, were at Wednesday’s hearing. But Robert Salesses, acting assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security, said Piatt told him in advance of the hearing “that he didn’t say anything about optics.”

Walker responded that “there were people in the room with me on that call that heard what they heard.”

Walker earlier testified that it took more than three hours for top Pentagon officials to relay their approval to him to deploy the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol.

After getting approval, Walker said he was able to deploy 155 guardsmen immediately.

Had they been able to deploy earlier, Walker said, “I believe that number could have made a difference, could have helped extend the perimeter and helped push back the crowd.”

Tags Capitol breach District of Columbia National Guard National Guard of the United States Ryan McCarthy Storming of the United States Capitol

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