Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing
Stark testimony from the head of the D.C. National Guard on Wednesday raised new questions about the Pentagon’s response as insurrectionists were attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Rules and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.
Timeline delays come into focus
One of the biggest revelations from D.C. National Guard commanding general Maj. Gen. William Walker’s testimony was exactly how long he said it took for him to get approval to deploy Jan. 6 after receiving a “frantic” call from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund asking for help.
Walker said he got the approval at 5:08 p.m. — three hours and 19 minutes after Sund’s first call to him — contradicting Pentagon officials who have been insisting they acted as fast as they could.
“Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many Guardsmen as I could muster,” Walker said.
But when a call was then convened between Sund, Pentagon officials and other law enforcement and local D.C. officials to discuss the request, Walker said he was “stunned” at what he heard.
“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,” Walker said, corroborating testimony a week earlier from Sund and acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee.
Then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy himself was not on the call, Walker said, adding the concern about optics was expressed by director of the Army staff Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt and Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, a deputy chief of staff in the Army and brother of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Robert Salesses, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security, testified Wednesday that then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller told McCarthy he approved the request at 4:32 p.m.
But Salesses acknowledged there was a half-hour delay in relaying that approval to Walker.
“How is that possible,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked. “The person that had to be told wasn’t for more than a half an hour after the decision was made? … It’s a significant problem for the future.”
The delay, Walker held, could have changed the course of events at the Capitol.
“I believe that number could have made a difference,” Walker said of the 155 Guardsmen he had ready to deploy as soon as he got approval. “We could help extend the perimeter and help push back the crowd.”
National Guard was hamstrung ahead of the attack
Walker said decisions made in the days before the attack also hampered the response.
Specifically, Walker pointed to an “unusual” Jan. 5 memo from McCarthy restricting his ability to deploy a so-called Quick Reaction Force without McCarthy’s approval.
Had it not been for that restriction, Walker said, he “would have sent them there immediately as soon as I hung up” from his call with Sund.
The testimony is raising new questions about the numerous roadblocks faced by officials in seeking to request guard assistance.
Walker also shed new light on Sund’s ability to request National Guard assistance in advance.
Walker said the two are friends and spoke the weekend before Jan 6.
“I asked him, ‘Are you going to request D.C. National Guard help? And if you do I need it in writing. It has to be formal because the Secretary of Defense has to approve it.’ He told me he was not allowed to request a support, and I asked him if he wanted me to share that and he said, ‘No, I can’t even ask you for the score.’ That’s what he told me,” Walker said.
Summer protests loomed large
Walker told the committees, “It was never really explained to me” why restrictions were placed on him. But he drew a stark contrast between Jan. 6 and the response to racial justice protests over the summer.
Asked by Homeland Security committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) whether he got immediate approval from McCarthy and Miller to deploy guardsmen in June, Walker replied, “yes.” Pressed by Peters on whether he got immediate approval to deploy Jan. 6, Walker replied, “no.”
Walker also told senators McCarthy was by his side during the events of the summer, enabling the quick action, but not on Jan. 6.
Salesses similarly suggested a connection between the Jan. 6 response and criticism over the racial justice protests response, telling Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) there were “a lot of things that happened in the spring that the department was criticized for.”
Pressure is on for DOD testimony
Miller and McCarthy weren’t at Wednesday’s hearing, but lawmakers seem likely to want to hear from them.
Salesses answered senators where he could, but he was not involved in some of the key decisionmaking moments on Jan. 6, such as the call where Walker said Army officials expressed concern about optics.
“I’m disappointed we don’t have someone from [the Department of Defense] DOD who actually was there at the time. I think you’re being put in a tough position, Mr. Salesses,” Portman said.
Blunt, the ranking member of the Rules Committee, said senators “certainly” have questions for Miller and McCarthy, but said he was unsure what format that will take.
“Whether that’s going to require testimony or not, I don’t know, but it’s definitely going to require an opportunity to ask them questions about their view from their perspective of why this decisionmaking process went so horribly wrong,” Blunt said.
Miller, for his part, has previously indicated enthusiasm for testifying.
“I gotta tell you, I cannot wait to go to the Hill and have those conversations with senators and representatives,” Miller told Vanity Fair in January, adding that criticism the Pentagon dragged its feet during the attack is “complete horseshit.”
The FBI’s top brass was unaware of warnings
A Jan. 5 report from the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., office that detailed specific calls for violence on Jan. 6, including those that suggested protesters go to the Capitol “ready for war,” made it into very few key hands.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that he did not get the report until after the incident, something FBI Counterterrorism Division associate director Jill Sanborn also echoed.
Both Sund and his replacement Yogananda Pittman also said the report never made it across their desks.
“We actually didn’t receive that information until late, very late in the afternoon on the fifth and almost into the evening. And because of our emphasis on we need any intelligence, even though it was raw, and attributed and unvetted the Norfolk office quickly wrote that up,” Sanborn said.
But the bureau remains under fire for not doing more to communicate what it heard.
“I don’t know that anybody picked up the phone and called somebody in charge and said ‘This is a problem,’ ” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said.