Federal officials will face stern questioning about delays in deploying the National Guard during the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, as lawmakers probe broader intelligence failures in the days before the violent insurrection.
Major General William Walker is set to appear alongside three intelligence and counter-terrorism experts from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department in a joint hearing with the Senate committees on Homeland
Security and Rules.
It is uncertain how much added detail Walker can provide about Capitol security officials’ requests for assistance on January 6 as Congress was under attack by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters.
In hearings last week, current and former Capitol security officials outlined intelligence failings in the days before a Trump rally near the White House turned into a deadly attack on the Capitol. They also described a delayed response to the attack.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Capitol attack was an example of “domestic terrorism,” something he described as “metastasising across the country.”
But there were disagreements on some of those details. Among the most disputed involved the National Guard.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said that two days before the riot, House and Senate security officials rejected his request to bring in the National Guard. He said then-House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving raised the issue of “optics” — how the deployment would look to the public.
Irving disputed that in his testimony, calling it “categorically false.”
The two men disagreed on precisely what time Sund first asked Irving — as Capitol Police were starting to be overwhelmed by the protesters — to allow an emergency declaration for the National Guard to reinforce police. Sund claimed an hour was lost after Irving said he needed run that request up the chain of command.
Sund said in his testimony last week that the first 150 National Guardsmen did not arrive on the Capitol grounds to back up Washington DC and Capitol Police until 5:40 pm — more than four hours after he first requested them, and more than three hours after Irving and other members of the Capitol Police Board finally approved his request.
Robert Contee, acting Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, backed up parts of Sund’s recollection. He testified last week that he was “stunned” by the reaction during a conference call with representatives of the DC National Guard and the Department of the Army, “which was reluctant to send the DC National Guard to the Capitol.”
“While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception — the factors cited by the staff on the call — these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted,” Contee said.
“I was able to quickly deploy MPD and issue directives to them while they were in the field, and I was honestly shocked that the National Guard could not — or would not — do the same,” he added.
Sund testified that Army Lieutenant General Walter Piatt said on the conference call that he didn’t like “the visual of the National Guard standing a line with the Capitol in the background.”
Also scheduled to appear at Wednesday’s hearing with Walker are Melissa Smislova from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis; Jill Sanborn, from the FBI’s counterterrorism division; and Robert Salesses, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security.
As the Senate hearing gets under way, another will be occurring in the House, featuring acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman. In prepared testimony, she is expected to tell members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch that threats to lawmakers have nearly doubled in January and February compared to the same two months last year.
Acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett sent an alert to lawmakers that there will be heightened security at the Capitol on Thursday tied to conspiracy theories about March 4 as a key date for misinformation about Trump’s electoral defeat.