Investigators found no evidence that any one at the Pentagon deliberately delayed the deployment of the National Guard as the Capitol was being attacked on Jan. 6, 2021, the House committee investigating the insurrection said in its final report released Thursday night.
Rather, the committee paints a picture of defense officials who overcorrected after a heavy-handed and embarrassing response to racial justice protests the summer before, had “genuine” concerns then-President Donald Trump could try to use the military in a coup attempt and miscommunicated amid the chaotic, fog-of-war-like events of that day.
And while the committee acknowledged that authority to deploy the D.C. National Guard has been delegated to the defense secretary and Army secretary for decades, the report faults Trump for not ordering the deployment himself and never contacting any Pentagon officials that day.
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“While the delay seems unnecessary and unacceptable, it was the byproduct of military processes, institutional caution and a revised deployment approval process,” the report said. “We have no evidence that the delay was intentional. Likewise, it appears that none of the individuals involved understood what President Trump planned for January 6th, and how he would behave during the violence.”
The finding was part of the final report of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, delivering the committee’s conclusions from its 18-month probe. The bulk of the 845-page report focuses on Trump’s culpability in the attack, but a 46-page appendix delves into why the National Guard took more than three hours to deploy. The committee is composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans.
The committee’s conclusions broadly align with a Defense Department inspector general report released last year that found department officials “did not delay or obstruct the DoD’s response” to the attack. But speculation and accusations that Trump or one of his political appointees intentionally slowed the deployment persisted even after that report was released.
Among the new details the committee uncovered, then-commanding general of the D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker told investigators he considered deploying without authorization as he sat waiting for approval from his superiors. Walker was talked out of doing so by his lawyer.
Questions about the actions of Pentagon officials while the Capitol was under siege have swirled since the attack that forced lawmakers to halt their counting of Electoral College ballots and flee to safe rooms as Trump supporters ransacked the building, beat police officers and called for the hanging of then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Drips of information from the House committee have added to the speculation that Trump or an appointee delayed the deployment, particularly the committee’s release of an excerpt of a Jan. 5 email from Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in which he said the National Guard would be on hand Jan. 6 to “protect pro Trump people.”
In the committee’s telling, how the Pentagon responded to Jan. 6 can be traced back to its response to racial justice protests in summer 2020. During that time, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was physically near Walker giving him verbal orders. That approach sped response times but also led to misunderstandings that fueled an overly aggressive reaction to the protests, such as when two National Guard helicopters meant for aerial surveillance flew low to the ground to disperse demonstrators in D.C.
McCarthy came away from the experience convinced that future responses to civil disturbances needed written concepts of operation that were “explicit, tailored” and “come from [the] top down,” he told the committee.
When, in December 2020, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a small number of D.C. Guardsmen for Jan. 6 to help with crowd management at Metro stations and blocking vehicles at traffic posts, some in military leadership were relieved at the limited request, according to the report. D.C. officials told the committee they specifically did not ask the Guard to help with possible civil disturbances, because all the expected protests were on federal land, beyond the scope of city officials’ authority.
But McCarthy himself was initially inclined to deny even that limited request. Officials were also concerned that Trump would call on the military to aid in his plot to overturn Biden’s victory, the report said. Trump advisers, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell, had met with Trump in the White House in December to push him to use the military to seize voting machines around the country, and McCarthy was “taken aback” when a reporter at the Pentagon asked him if the Army planned to do that.
“There was a lot of talk in the lead-up about martial law … and the employment of forces, and you know, that was something that we were all, you know, conscious of,” McCarthy told the committee.
Eventually, McCarthy and then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller signed off on D.C.’s request for the National Guard with, in the words of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, “very strict” parameters, according to the report. Those rules included that Miller needed to personally approve the use of any batons, helmets or body armor; that Guardsmen could not physically interact with protesters; that changes in mission had to be approved by McCarthy or Miller; and that a quick reaction force staged in Maryland could only be used as a last resort.
When violence broke out Jan. 6, the highest-ranking commander on the ground, Col. Craig Hunter, immediately prepared the Guardsmen on traffic control duty and those who were part of the quick reaction force to deploy to the Capitol, according to the report. But it would be more than three hours later before approval to go came down.
During that time, Capitol security officials, D.C. officials and military officials held a frantic phone call where the D.C. and Capitol officials pleaded for help while the military officers, particularly Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff, tried to act as calming voices and expressed concern about having troops at the Capitol during the process of counting electoral votes.
D.C. officials described Piatt’s chief concern as “optics.” While Piatt denied ever using the word “optics,” he acknowledged he believed using the Guard was “not my best military judgment or my best military advice.” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, who was not on the call, defended Piatt’s actions to the committee, saying that using the military “creates a reaction from the American people” and that “we need to think our way through that.”
D.C. and Capitol officials left the call believing their request for help was denied, but at the same time, McCarthy, Miller, Milley and McConville were huddled in Miller’s office discussing deploying the Guard.
Miller told the committee that he authorized deploying the Guard at 3:04 p.m., but both McCarthy and Walker believed McCarthy needed to give further approval of a mission plan before deploying. McCarthy told investigators he and Miller “may have talked past each other.”
As he continued waiting, Walker considered deploying without approval, with one of his aides telling the committee, he said, “Should we just deploy now and resign tomorrow?”
Walker said he would have deployed if not for the restrictions Miller set prior to Jan. 6, but Miller told the committee he would have moved out anyway.
“I’ve launched QRF without approval more than once,” Miller told the committee. “If you’re the person on the ground in the Army, and you realize that there’s something that is unpredictable or unexpected and you have the ability to influence it, the culture, the training, the education, the expectation of you, the American people, is that you will execute and do what you can, even if it costs you your job.”
McCarthy told the committee he called Walker to tell him to prepare to deploy shortly after Miller’s 3:04 p.m. authorization, but Walker denies that call ever happened. After that, McCarthy, unaware of Hunter’s on-the-ground planning, started his own planning down to tactical details. Walker said he never ended up being given a plan from McCarthy and that he was offended officials were planning without him.
At 4:35 p.m., McCarthy and an aide said he gave his approval to deploy, but Walker also denies that call ever happened, and the aide, Brig. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, acknowledged there was “mass confusion in that room” at the time.
At 5:09 p.m., McConville “fortuitously” found Walker still waiting and told him he had the authority to go, according to the report. By the time the Guard arrived at the Capitol, “pretty much all the other fighting, per se, had stopped on the Capitol complex,” a D.C. police officer told the committee.
No one the committee interviewed at the Pentagon, Army or National Guard leveled accusations that the delay was intentional, according to the report.
“I didn’t see anybody trying to throw sand in the gearbox and slow things down,” Milley told the committee.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
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