Jan. 6 panel’s report details rift among defense officials during Capitol riot
The Washington Post December 24, 2022
Miscommunication and friction among senior Pentagon officials and leaders of the D.C. National Guard during the assault on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, contributed to the hours-long lag time in Guards troops responding to supporters of President Donald Trump attacking police and smashing their way into the Capitol, according to the findings of the House Jan. 6 committee’s investigation.
The conclusion is among the broader findings of an 845-page report, released Thursday night, that places primary blame for the violence on Trump, who had directed his supporters to the Capitol after his loss in the 2020 election. The report recommends that Congress ban him from running for president again.
The investigators note that Trump’s desire to use the military in provocative and potentially illegal ways during the summer 2020 protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis had prompted senior Pentagon officials to take unusual precautions to make sure the National Guard was not used for an “improper purpose” as Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential election win over Trump. Taking such steps, the report said, was prudent and legal.
But the committee nonetheless found fault with what occurred on the day of the attack on Congress.
“What that entailed in the unprecedented circumstances of the January 6th attack on the Capitol is, however, harder to accept: a 3 hour and 19 minute lag-time in making a relatively small, but riot-trained and highly capable military unit available to conduct one of its statutory support missions,” the report states.
The attack erupted less than two months after the Pentagon had been thrown into disarray by the firing of Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, whom Trump and his inner circle did not find sufficiently loyal to the president, the report states. Advisers to Trump had openly advocated for the U.S. military to seize ballot boxes and rerun the election, prompting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, to release a joint statement a few weeks prior that said there was no role for the military in deciding elections. McCarthy told investigators that he had anticipated being fired for doing so, the report said.
The Guard troops, after responding to civil unrest in Washington in June 2020, were initially approved by senior Pentagon officials for only a narrow mission on Jan. 6 that included performing traffic control at Metro stops. McCarthy had directed Guard members not to have batons or shields with them in their vehicles, an effort to limit their mission without further scrutiny at the Pentagon.
But National Guard leaders quietly prepared for a potentially more violent clash, investigators found. Col. Craig Hunter, the senior National Guard commander on the ground, directed his troops to store riot gear in a box truck nearby, while a 40-member quick-reaction force staged at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland carried out drills “in secret” to respond to “sudden and escalating unrest,” the report said.
McCarthy, asked why he was unaware of the additional moves that National Guard leaders took, accepted blame.
“I mean, I made a mistake,” McCarthy said, according to the report. “I think a local unit commander was anticipating more than what potentially we were prepared for.” Through a spokesperson, he declined to comment Friday.
Walker told investigators that he “wasn’t going to have my soldiers unprepared” by having them leave behind their shields and batons. D.C. National Guard leaders “understood that loading this equipment flouted direct orders,” the report said.
Walker, reached by phone, said that his Guard troops had been tested during the unrest of summer 2020 and were ready to go on Jan. 6. His subordinate leaders already had begun making plans to assist police at the Capitol but were stymied by McCarthy calling for more planning, he said.
“Here’s the bottom line: They did not want to do it,” Walker said of senior Army officials. “We should have been there. We could have made a difference - a substantial, material difference. I will never not believe that.”
The investigators detail a number of differences of opinion among senior Pentagon officials and D.C. National Guard leaders about what happened that day.
Notably, acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, who had been installed to replace Esper in November, recalled authorizing the deployment of the National Guard at 3:04 p.m., about a half-hour after an urgent phone call in which D.C. officials pleaded for National Guard support and senior Army leaders responded with reservations. Miller told investigators that he was unclear why Walker had not jumped into action at that point.
But authorization to deploy still had not been conveyed. McCarthy told investigators that he and Miller “may have talked past each other” in Miller’s office, because McCarthy walked away from the conversation believing that he still had authority to send the Guard force at his own direction and thought that more analysis was needed. Walker waited for McCarthy’s order to come, increasingly frustrated, he said.
McCarthy told investigators that after the summer 2020 upheaval, he took responsibility for developing a plan himself. McCarthy had considered it an embarrassment that the D.C. National Guard response to civil unrest the previous June had included low-flying helicopters attempting to ward off protesters and wanted to prevent similar chaos, other witnesses said.
The House committee reaffirmed earlier reported timelines that McCarthy was prepared to approve the National Guard’s deployment at 4:35 p.m. But another delay occurred then, the report said.
McCarthy relayed a “go” order to Walker through Brig. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, a one-star officer on the Army staff, McCarthy said. But Walker told investigators that no such message was conveyed, repeating a claim he also made after the release of a Defense Department inspector general’s office investigation in November 2021.
LaNeve, now the two-star commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, told investigators that he told Walker at 4:25 p.m. to prepare to send troops but that McCarthy conveyed a 4:35 p.m. order to Walker to deploy.
The report states that Walker did not act as though he had received such an order, but does not confirm whether one was verbalized then by anyone. At 5:09 p.m., McConville, the Army’s top officer, was “surprised” to see no action and told Walker that approval had been granted, the report said. By 6 p.m., Guard members were at the Capitol and sworn in to perform law enforcement duties.
Hunter, the National Guard colonel, estimated that he could have had 250 troops at the Capitol by no later than 4:40 p.m. if his earlier plans had been immediately approved.
McCarthy, asked about that assessment, agreed that “you could have shaved minutes” off, the report said. But how many, he said, is not clear.