Pentagon Chief Waited Hours to Send Capitol Aid: Why?
As protesters stormed the Capitol Wednesday, then-chief of U.S. Capitol Police Steven Sund says he requested National Guard assistance six times both ahead of, and during, the attack on the Capitol, and that each of his requests were denied or delayed. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser placed frantic calls to the Governors of Maryland and Virginia asking for the National Guard to send help.
On Tuesday, Bowser had sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen, and acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, explicitly stating that she did not want federal law enforcement personnel to provide additional support on Wednesday, and that Capitol Police were prepared to deal with the expected activity.
During an emergency meeting called by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) with the Maryland police and National Guard, House Minority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called Hogan from “an undisclosed bunker” and told him Capitol Police were “overwhelmed” by the mob storming the Capitol, The Week reports.
There were 500 Maryland National Guard members on standby outside of D.C., ready and waiting to assist. Yet Hogan had to tell Hoyer that he still didn’t have authorization to send the National Guard, despite the urgent pleadings of the House’s No. 2 Democrat.
It wasn’t until 90 minutes later that Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy called Hogan to ask, “Can you come as soon as possible?”
Hogan responded, “Yeah, we’ve been waiting. We’re ready.”
“I can’t tell you what was going on on the other end, on the decision-making process,” Hogan said. “There’s been lots of speculation in the media about that, but I’m not privy to what was going on inside the White House or inside the Pentagon.”
The Army says that they received the first call for help from Bowser shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, followed by several additional calls for assistance.
Bowser asked for the D.C. National Guard soldiers to send reinforcements, but Pentagon officials say they requested clarification. According to defense officials quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Pentagon officials asked, “What do you want to do with them?”
It took an agonizing 90 minutes to determine those needs and approve the redeployment of 200 troops that had been stationed at traffic checkpoints and subway stations in the city. It took even longer for the additional soldiers to retrieve protective gear and arrive at the Capitol.
During that critical time delay, the mob overwhelmed the barriers outside the Capitol, erected a wooden gallows, crashed through windows and doors and left a path of destruction and violence in their wake.
Carrying a collection of Donald Trump, Blue Lives Matter, and Confederate battle flags, the attackers pinned a bloodied police officer in a doorway, his screams of agony captured on video as the mob attempted to batter their way inside.
“Hang Mike Pence!” they chanted, beating police with pipes and stabbing them with flags. “USA, USA!”
They mortally wounded an officer with a blunt instrument; and dragged another one face-down the Capitol steps and into the mob, beating him with whatever they could get their hands on.
When the mob reached the Capitol complex at about 12:40 p.m. ET on Wednesday, it took about 15 minutes for the west side perimeter of the building to be breached, Sund says. “The Capitol Police contingent, which numbered around 1,400 that day, was quickly overrun by the estimated 8,000 rioters,” reports NPR.
“If we would have had the National Guard we could have held them at bay longer,” Sund told the Washington Post.
At 2:26 p.m., Sund says that he made an urgent conference call to the Pentagon to plead for additional backup.
“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance. I have got to get boots on the ground,” said Sund.
According to Sund, LTG Walter Piatt responded: “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background.”
Sund repeated several times during the call that the situation at the Capitol was “dire,” according to John Falcicchio, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief of staff, told The Washington Post.
“I saw this crowd of people banging on that glass screaming,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Looking at their faces, it occurred to me, these aren’t protesters. These are people who want to do harm.”
Once inside, the mob demanded to know where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was. They would eventually find her office and steal her lectern and laptop.
“Where are they?” screamed the mob, as they hunted lawmakers. Congressional staff put furniture up against doors and cowered under tables for hours.
“Murder the media” was scratched into a door of the Capitol. Journalists were assaulted; some had their equipment smashed.
It wasn’t until 3:10 p.m. that the Guard was finally deployed, and they did not arrive until 5:40 p.m. after most of the violence had already ended, the Post reports.
In the aftermath of the violent insurrection at the Capitol, the chief of U.S. Capitol Police Steven Sund resigned after Pelosi called for him to step down. House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger also resigned.
Congress plans to investigate the law enforcement response that resulted in the catastrophic planning failures seen Wednesday.
But there are many unanswered questions that remain, including the failure of the Army to respond to Bowser and Sund’s requests for aid.
Piatt denies that he blocked Sund’s request: “I did not make the statement or any comments similar to what was attributed to me by Chief Sund in the Washington Post article,” he told Business Insider.
On Monday, three days before the attack, Bowser had asked for a light security presence from the National Guard, in light of the negative press that had resulted from the massive military footprint at the Capitol during the summer protests. Defense officials agreed that around 340 D.C. National Guard would perform support duties like traffic management, according to military officials.
In the summer, President Trump had called in the D.C. National Guard. He did not do so Wednesday. Rumors circulated that Vice President Mike Pence had called for the Guard’s assistance, but reports that Pence gave the order are incorrect.
“The Vice President is not in the chain of command. He doesn’t have that authority, he did not order it,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesperson.
The authority to activate the D.C. National Guard has been delegated, by the President, to the Secretary of Defense and further delegated to the Secretary of the Army. D.C. Mayor Bowser has no authority to call in the D.C. National Guard. She can request their deployment, as she did here, but the final authority rests with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who delayed approving her request for 90 minutes.
Multiple European security officials believe that there must have been “at least tacit support from U.S. federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex,” Business Insider reports.
Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia. They said the circumstantial evidence available pointed to what would be openly called a coup attempt in any other nation. None were willing to speak on the record because of the dire nature of the subject.The French police official said they believed that an investigation would find that someone interfered with the deployment of additional federal law-enforcement officials on the perimeter of the Capitol complex; the official has direct knowledge of the proper procedures for security of the facility.
National security is at grave risk when America’s allies believe U.S. federal agents assisted in a coup. That’s why it is important that Congress does a thorough investigation. We need to know why it took so long for the Army to respond to the requests to deploy the National Guard.
“This really is largely a failure of the Capitol Police to plan,” Lindsay Cohn, associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, told TAC. “Mayor Bowser was probably too optimistic. She could have requested more D.C. National Guard beforehand. I think the Capitol Police were far too optimistic and seem to have had no planning in place for the contingency … [in case] they might be wrong. They appear to have anticipated only a mild protest.”
“This was an unprecedented attack on Capitol Hill. There was nothing like it before,” Constitutional attorney Bruce Fein told TAC. Fein said it would have been difficult for security to foresee a mob acting in a way that Washington had never seen before: “Who would have anticipated a president inciting an insurrection, doing the equivalent of Henry II’s ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ and calling down the mob on his own Vice President?”
Might this have been prevented if the National Guard had deployed in 45 minutes?
“Government bureaucracies move slowly all the time, especially when something is totally unanticipated,” said Fein. “Now they should know to expect a mob.”