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'Seconds mattered': While Capitol under siege, DC National Guard waited 3 hours for Pentagon approval

Kevin Johnson, Bart Jansen and Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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WASHINGTON – The commander of the District of Columbia National Guard said Wednesday that Pentagon officials delayed giving him authority to dispatch 155 troops to the Capitol on Jan. 6 by more than three hours, time that could have been used to shore up defense of the building during the deadly insurrection.

Maj. Gen. William Walker told a Senate hearing that then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund pleaded with him by phone to send in troops shortly before 2 p.m. on Jan. 6. It wasn't until after 5 p.m. that senior Pentagon officials allowed him to send the reinforcements. The troops could have been deployed to the Capitol grounds within 20 minutes, he said.

More: Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund says his request for National Guard backup was denied

Acting Capitol Police chief: No 'specific credible threat' before riot; officers unsure of lethal force authority

"That number would have made a difference,” Walker said. "At that point, seconds mattered; minutes mattered."

Walker said the delayed response was markedly different from the Guard's deployment to social justice protests last summer when troops were dispatched immediately to downtown Washington.

At a hearing March 3, Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, explains the delay in riot response to senators examining the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
At a hearing March 3, Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, explains the delay in riot response to senators examining the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Walker testified that senior Army officials were concerned during a conference call about the appearance of troops at the Capitol. The officials worried, Walker said, that the troops could "incite the crowd."

A joint Senate committee is investigating the government failure to anticipate and adequately respond to the assault despite repeated warnings of a rising domestic threat.

More: FBI chasing 2,000 domestic terror cases; antifa not among Capitol suspects, Wray says

More: Feds on guard for domestic extremists targeting Biden's address to Congress

DHS issued 15 warnings, FBI 12 on extremist threats

At Wednesday’s hearing, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials described a drumbeat of reports and advisories detailing a mounting extremist threat throughout 2020.

Melissa Smislova, acting undersecretary for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said the agency wrote 15 such warnings, including a report in August that political campaigns could be targeted during the divisive presidential election period.

A week before the attack, Smislova said a report was issued warning of threats to government buildings and law enforcement.

Jill Sanborn, chief of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, told lawmakers the bureau wrote 12 reports outlining the risk posed by extremists.

"In late August 2020, we published an analytical report informing our partners that domestic violent extremists with partisan political grievances likely posed an increased threat related to the 2020 election," Sanborn said. "In that product, we noted that domestic violent extremist responses to the election outcome might not occur until after the election and could be based on potential or anticipated policy changes."

More: Pipe bombs placed at RNC, DNC night before Capitol riot; feds up reward to $100,000

Since the attack, much attention has centered on an FBI report on Jan. 5 warning that protesters were descending on the Capitol, preparing for "war."

Sund and other law enforcement officials said they never saw the warning, but Sanborn echoed testimony provided Tuesday by FBI Director Christopher Wray to a separate Senate committee that the information was shared in multiple ways with Capitol Police and other law enforcement partners.

FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau shared information about domestic threats with Washington law enforcement before the Capitol riot.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau shared information about domestic threats with Washington law enforcement before the Capitol riot.

Yet Sanborn acknowledged that, like Wray, she was not aware of the bulletin until days after the attack.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said it was "astounding" that officials did not take more affirmative steps to ensure top officials were aware of the information about potential threats.

Threats against lawmakers up 93%

In other testimony, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said Wednesday that increasing threats against lawmakers strain the force’s resources in the aftermath of the riot – an environment that is a “very real and present danger.

Pittman told a House committee that threats to members of Congress soared by 93% in the first two months of the year, compared with last year. From 2017 to 2020, she said, threats were up 118%.

"While we have complemented our increased posture with the leveraging of federal, state and local law enforcement partnerships with the collective goal of protecting the Congress away from the Capitol grounds, the number of agents required to provide an appropriate level of analysis, protection and enforcement necessitates a significant increase in personnel based on the threats trends year over year," Pittman said.

Tuesday, FBI Director Wray provided a daunting assessment of the threat, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that domestic terror investigations in recent years have doubled to 2,000 cases.

Pittman said the department needs 80 officers on stand-by at all times to deal with the threat.

“The USCP is steadfast in ensuring that an incident of this nature will never occur again, especially with the realization that the possibility of a similar incident occurring in the current environment is a very real and present danger,” Pittman said.

About 140 officers were injured Jan. 6, and one died. Two others died later by suicide. The department provided counselors to officers and their families. The department also provided more than 20,000 nights in hotel room stays for its personnel and has served nearly 70,000 daily hot meals over the past six weeks, Pittman said.

“In the wake of the insurrection attempt, the department has invested additional resources, with the generous support of the Congress, to ensure that our officers have the support services they need as they continue to process what occurred,” Pittman said.

About 340 National Guard troops were on duty in Washington on Jan. 6, as requested by Mayor Muriel Bowser. They were assigned to traffic control, not protecting the Capitol.

Wednesday’s hearing needs to determine why the Pentagon took hours to send more National Guard troops to the Capitol after it was clear insurrectionists had overwhelmed police, said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

More than 25,000 National Guard troops flowed into Washington days after the attack to secure the city, and more than 5,000 remain, Robert Salesses, a senior Pentagon official for homeland security, told lawmakers.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Capitol attack: DC National Guard waited 3 hours for Pentagon's OK