What did the National Guard do when the U.S. Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6 and when did it do it? The congressional panel investigating the attack that disrupted certification of the presidential election in January is seeking answers to a range of questions from that day, but the National Guard has become one of the focal points of the inquiry.
The Guard's response, with troops arriving several hours after supporters of then-President Donald Trump first breached the Capitol, is back in the spotlight this week after the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol cited questions about the delay as one of the reasons it is holding Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in contempt of Congress.
Meadows turned over thousands of pages of documents to the committee, but has refused to sit for a deposition.
The day before the attack, Meadows sent an email to an unnamed organizer of the rally that preceded the violence saying the National Guard would be "present to 'protect pro Trump people' and that many more would be available on standby," the committee wrote in a report detailing its reasons for holding Meadows in contempt.
The 51-page report contains no further details about the email, saying that's one of the things the panel would have asked Meadows about if he had cooperated.
"Mr. Meadows apparently knows if and when Mr. Trump was engaged in discussions regarding the National Guard's response to the Capitol riot, a point that is contested but about which Mr. Meadows provided documents to the Select Committee and spoke publicly on national television after President Trump left office," the report said.
The committee, which is composed of seven House Democrats and two Republicans, voted unanimously Monday night to hold Meadows in contempt. The full House is expected to pass the resolution along mostly party lines later Tuesday, after which the Justice Department would decide whether to actually charge Meadows with contempt of Congress.
Retired Maj. Gen. William Walker, who was the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard at the time of the attack, also spoke with the Select Committee behind closed doors Monday, according to CNN.
The D.C. National Guard, which deployed about 340 troops ahead of the attack to help with crowd control at Metro stations and city intersections in anticipation of pro-Trump rallies, did not respond to Military.com's request for comment on the committee's report.
Asked at a briefing about the Meadows email, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby pointed to the D.C. Guard's stated pre-attack mission to "provide traffic control and crowd management during expected demonstrations."
"That was the task that they were assigned. But beyond that I'm not going to speculate or speak to the work of the committee," he said.
Kirby expressed concern that comments like the one Meadows allegedly made could add to a public perception of the military acting politically.
"We serve to defend the entire American population, regardless of who they are or who they decide to vote for or if they decide to vote," Kirby said. "So when there is comments like that made, it certainly does very little to help reinforce for the American people how seriously we take our obligations and the oath that we take to support and defend the Constitution, and the nonspoken commitment that anybody who has served in uniform shares, which is as an institution to stay apolitical."
The Guard's response on Jan. 6 and whether it was delayed by Trump or one of his political appointees has been a point of contention and speculation since his supporters overran the Capitol while Congress was certifying President Joe Biden's victory in the November election.
The attack prompted lawmakers to flee to safe rooms in the Capitol as rioters beat and sprayed chemical irritants at police officers; broke windows, doors, furniture and art; and chanted that they wanted to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the building to perform his ceremonial role overseeing the certification.
The chaos ended in the deaths of one police officer, who suffered two strokes after clashes with rioters; one Trump supporter shot by police while trying to climb through a broken window adjacent to the House chamber that lawmakers were still in; and three other rioters who died from medical emergencies during the chaos. Four police officers who responded to the attack have also since died by suicide.
While the few hundred D.C. Guardsmen had been deployed around the city to help with crowd control, it took hours for the National Guard to arrive at the Capitol after the mob breached the building.
In March testimony to the Senate, Walker said it took more than three hours for him to get approval to deploy to the Capitol after Capitol Police requested help. He testified that Pentagon officials' concerns about "optics," as well as "unusual" restrictions placed on him Jan. 5 that prevented deploying a quick reaction force without higher approval, delayed the response.
A Pentagon inspector general report released last month found that Defense Department officials "did not delay or obstruct the DoD's response" to the attack. It also said Walker was given approval to deploy earlier than he testified he was and that then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had to call Walker a second time a half-hour after the initial approval to reissue the deployment order.
But Walker and other former Guard officials have taken issue with the inspector general report.
Walker, who is now the House sergeant-at-arms, has called on the inspector general to retract the report, telling The Washington Post last month he never received the 4:35 p.m. call in which the IG said McCarthy gave his first approval to deploy.
In a 36-page memo to the Jan. 6 Select Committee obtained and published last week by Politico, Col. Earl Matthews, who was Walker's top lawyer at the National Guard at the time of the attack, said the IG report is "replete with factual inaccuracies, discrepancies and faulty analysis" and "relies on demonstrably false testimony or statements."
Matthews also took issue with a separate, internal Army report on its response to the insurrection. The Army report, also published by Politico, said Guard members were not ready to quickly deploy, but Matthews called the findings "a revisionist tract worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist."
The dispute over whether the National Guard was delayed Jan. 6 is the latest example of the Guard being thrown into the center of politics. The Guard is also in the middle of a tug-of-war between federal and state authorities over COVID-19 vaccination requirements and has had to navigate politically fraught deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border.