Forceful testimony from commander of D.C. National Guard highlights unexplained delays on Jan. 6

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Miller was not present for the testimony. Neither was Gen. Charles Flynn—the brother of disgraced general Michael Flynn—who Walker named as one of the chief Pentagon officials speaking to him in a desperate 2:30 PM call on Jan. 6 in the attempt to gain authorization to assist the Capitol Police. Walker reported that he told the Pentagon Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was on the phone, that his voice was cracking, and that the need was “serious.” In response, the Pentagon told Walker they were concerned the presence of uniformed military around the Capitol “could enflame the protesters.” This was at a time when those protesters had already breached the Capitol and were rampaging through the halls of Congress. 

Speaking for the Pentagon was Robert Salesses, who is listed as “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security.” Salesses had the unenviable assignment of attempting to justify Miller’s actions in restricting the Guard. Much of this came back to claims that “events in the spring” connected with Black Lives Matter protests had generated a sense of caution, and that as a new secretary of defense, Miller was intent on making decisions himself.

Salesses was at pains to explain the actions of both Miller and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. But in pointing out how Miller wanted to take personal control of the situation, Salesses never mentioned why Miller failed to act on that control when the Capitol was breached. Salesses also explained that McCarthy was so concerned about how the Guard was to be deployed that he met with other officials to walk through operations—without explaining why this took place two hours after the first request from Capitol Police.

The idea that delays on Jan. 6 resulted from “political pushback” to the use of the National Guard over the summer delighted several Republican members, enough so that people like Ted Cruz insisted on having Salesses repeat his statement in several ways. Cruz also deployed a memo from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser warning that she didn’t want “unidentifiable personal deployed in the District of Columbia without proper coordination”—a statement that was clearly not aimed at the National Guard but at the ragtag collection of Bureau of Prisons riot police, immigration agents, and others deployed under the command of William Barr. 

But Cruz was topped by Josh Hawley, who crafted an entirely fictional timeline of events in which Jan. 6 was not only the result of politicians and the press complaining about Barr’s mixed bag of forces being deployed against protesters, but an “attack on the White House.” That attack would be, presumably, the events that led to Trump going down to a secure location in the basement. In this Hawley seemed to ignore the fact that protesters never came closer to the White House than the park across the street, there were multiple lines of fencing and police between Trump and those protesters that were never breached, and that Trump himself later dismissed the whole event by saying he thought it was a good time to give the secure facility “an inspection” and that he was only there for “a tiny short time.” 

Ron Johnson also was … Ron Johnson. He continued reading from the same narrative of a faux military expert who, as an “eye witness” to events, saw men moving toward the Capitol in “snake-like” formations. 

Oh, and both Hawley and Rand Paul demonstrated a continued interest in just what cell phone data the FBI might have collected, with real concerns that this might even include “members of Congress.” Completely out of their longstanding worries about privacy, of course.

Throughout the day, a number of questions concerning the intelligence previous to Jan. 6, and that FBI field report issued to Capitol Police just a few hours before events began, were fielded by longtime Department of Homeland Security (DHS) analyst Melissa Smislova. Smislova repeatedly pushed away any contention that the FBI or other agencies had not given proper warning, and insisted any failings in dealing with the information lay elsewhere. She also repeatedly insisted there had been no political pressure to downplay the threat of white supremacist violence despite several whistleblowers within DHS making exactly that claim.

However, what is becoming clear about the brief report of “chatter” on the night of Jan. 5 is that it seems to be the best the intelligence community had put together for this event. Which is … amazing. 

After all, on Jan. 2 The Washington Post reported:

“Threats of violence, ploys to smuggle guns into the District and calls to set up an ‘armed encampment’ on the Mall have proliferated in online chats about the Jan. 6 day of protest. The Proud Boys, members of armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists have pledged to attend.”

Reporting for Daily Kos on Jan. 4, David Neiwert wrote an article entitled “Pro-Trump rally expected to bring chaos, violence to D.C. streets while Congress certifies election”

“In addition to a roster of official participants—largely such far-right organizations as the Tea Party Patriots and Turning Point USA—a large contingent of unofficial participants from street-brawling groups such as the Proud Boys is also expected, as is the inevitable violence associated with them.

And those are just two of many articles that were written warnings that Jan. 6 was going to bring violence directed at the Capitol with the intent of interfering in the official counting of the electoral vote.

So the real question isn’t why the Capitol Police didn’t pay more attention to a report that arrived on the evening of Jan. 5, especially when that report was labeled as unsubstantiated. The real question is, why were the Capitol Police getting such a weak document at such a late date? Multiple groups of violent extremists—Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Ohio State Regular Militia, and others—planned the assault on the Capitol for weeks in advance of Jan. 6. Much of that planning took place on social media, in chat rooms, or in other public spaces. In addition, Republican politicians such as Rep. Louie Gohmert were explicitly calling on Trump supporters to “go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM.”

There is little doubt that at the end of the day, the process now underway in both the Senate and the House will end up streamlining the steps necessary to bring the National Guard or other forces to help the Capitol Police. The creaky mechanism of the Capitol Police Board will be sidelined in emergency situations, if not eliminated entirely. The number of steps between the commander of the Washington, D.C. National Guard and approving deployment may be cut down by one or two. All of this may actually make it possible for the Capitol Police to better protect the Capitol. Which is good.

But the focus on the details of timeline and the reluctance of the Pentagon to provide necessary assistance takes the spotlight off the real complaint that the Capitol Police had at the outset: a failure of intelligence. Faster response by the National Guard may limit the damage of the next assault on the Capitol. It won’t prevent that assault.

For example: On Tuesday, the House Sergeant-at-Arms issued a bulletin dismissing the idea of violence related to the theory that Donald Trump will be revealed as the “real” president on March 4, saying that there was “no indication groups would travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence.” But on Wednesday, as the hearing was underway, there was an announcement of a potential plot to breach the Capitol on March 4. Soon after came news of a joint FBI/DHS bulletin warning that domestic violent extremists have planned “to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March.”

This news is arriving on March 3. A day after officials had apparently been told there was nothing to worry about. And it’s arriving weeks after the details of the potential for violence on March 4 was widely discussed.

There may be no violence on March 4. Hopefully the day comes and goes without notice, except for some few Trump faithful gnashing their teeth over yet another failed prophecy. But no matter what happens, even as the joint committee sits to ponder just what went wrong on Jan. 6, it seems to being going wrong all over again.