Law enforcement officials in the United States have given their first public testimony on the security failures that allowed the Capitol riot on January 6 to spiral out of control, resulting in the death of five people and injuries to at least 138 police officers.
Today, Congress hosted a joint hearing before the Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules Commitee.
The two Senate committees heard from former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, Acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee, former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving, and former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger.
Three of those four men resigned after the riot under pressure from congressional leaders.
Today Mr Sund told the senators he regretted his decision to quit, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded his resignation “without a full understanding” of the facts.
“I certainly do regret resigning. I love this agency, I love the men and women of this agency, and I regret the day I left,” he said.
In his testimony, Mr Sund tried to provide a more complete picture of those facts, though some his claims were contradicted by Mr Irving.
The former head of the Capitol Police blamed their lack of readiness for the riot on intelligence failures in the days beforehand, and officials’ reluctance to get the National Guard involved ahead of time.
Most strikingly, Mr Sund described his desperate efforts to get the National Guard deployed on January 6 itself, accusing US Defence officials of dragging out the process for hours while police were under assault.
First, Mr Sund had to obtain authorisation to request the National Guard from the Capitol Police Board, which included both Mr Irving and Mr Stenger at the time.
Then he had to petition the Pentagon to actually deploy the National Guard. Here is his full description of what happened next.
“At approximately 2.28pm, I learned that in order to get authorisation for National Guard support, the Pentagon needed to approve the request,” Mr Sund said.
“I was therefore asked to participate in a conference call with Dr Chris Rodriguez, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency; Chief Robert Contee, Metropolitan Police; General William Walker, D.C. National Guard; and Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, the Director of Army Staff.
“During the call, I again made an urgent request for immediate National Guard support. I explained that the National Guard was needed to shore up our perimeter to help secure the Capitol.
“Lt Gen Piatt stated, ‘I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a line with the Capitol in the background. I would much rather relief Capitol Police officers from other posts so they can handle the protesters.’
“I urgently advised that this was not an option and that I did not have officers to swap with National Guard and that I needed assistance immediately. Lt Gen Piatt stated that he was preparing to brief the Secretary of the Army, and that his recommendation would be not to support the request.
“Chief Contee then stated, ‘So you are denying the request from the Capitol Police.’ Chief Contee then asked me, ‘Steve, are you requesting National Guard assistance?’ to which I stated, ‘Yes I need immediate assistance with National Guard at the Capitol, I do not have the option to swap out officers on checkpoints.’
“Lt Gen Piatt then indicated he was going to run the request up the chain of command at the Pentagon.
“Almost two hours later, we had still not received authorisation from the Pentagon to activate the National Guard. Mr Stenger offered to have Senator (Mitch) McConnell call the Secretary of the Army to expedite the request. I agreed this would be a good idea.
“I followed up approximately 20 minutes later to check on the call and express the need for leadership to call to assist in expediting the request.
“The first 150 members of the National Guard were not sworn in on Capitol grounds until 5.40pm, four-and-a-half hours after I first requested them and three-and-a-half hours after my request was approved by the Capitol Police Board.”
Chief Contee told the hearing he was “literally stunned” by the nonchalant reaction from the Army officials.
“I was stunned at the response from the Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol,” he said.
“While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception – the factors cited by the staff on the call – these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted.
“I was able to quickly deploy Metropolitan Police and issue directives to them while they were in the field, and I was honestly shocked that the National Guard could not, or would not, do the same.”
Mr Sund also blamed Mr Irving and Mr Stenger for the failure to contain the rioters, saying he spoke to them about using the National Guard two days before January 6.
“On Monday, January 4, I approached the two sergeants-at-arms to request the assistance of the National Guard, as I had no authority to do so without an emergency declaration by the Capitol Police Board,” Mr Sund said.
“I first spoke with House sergeant-at-arms to request the National Guard. Mr Irving stated that he was concerned about the ‘optics’ of having the National Guard present and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it.
“He referred me to the Senate sergeant-at-arms to get his thoughts on the request. I then spoke to Mr Stenger, and again requested the National Guard.
“Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed, and to ‘lean forward’ in case we had to request assistance on January 6.”
Mr Irving disputed Mr Sund’s account, saying he never expressed any concerns about the “optics” of deploying the National Guard.
“Optics, as portrayed in the media, did not determine our security posture. Safety was always paramount when evaluating security for January 6,” he said.
“We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no, the intelligence did not warrant that.”
The pair also offered contradictory accounts of what happened in the early hours of the riot.
“I notified the two sergeants-at-arms by 1.09pm that I urgently needed support, and asked them to declare a state of emergency and authorise the National Guard,” Mr Sund claimed.
“I was advised by Mr Irving that he needed to run it up the chain of command. I continued to follow up with Mr Irving, who was with Mr Stenger at the time, and we advised that he was waiting to hear back from congressional leadership, but expected authorisation at any moment.”
Mr Irving said he had no memory or record of any communications with Mr Sund, by phone or text, at 1.09pm.
“From my recollection, I did not receive a request for approval of that National Guard until shortly after 2pm,” he said under questioning from Republican Senator Roy Blunt.
“All right, let me get that straight now. Mr Sund, do you know when you asked for National Guard assistance?” Mr Blunt interjected.
“It was 1.09pm sir,” Mr Sund repeated.
“And who did you ask for assistance at 1.09pm?” asked Mr Blunt.
“It was from Mr Irving,” Mr Sund replied.
“Mr Irving, why would you not remember that?” Mr Blunt said.
“Senator, I have no recollection of a conversation with Chief Sund at that time,” Mr Iving insisted.
“I was on the floor during the electoral college session, and my conversation with Chief Sund in that time frame was shortly before 1.30pm, when I recall he was describing conditions outside as deteriorating, he may at fact be submitting a request, and I carried that forward.
“That was as much as I can tell you. I have no phone record of a call from Chief Sund.
“I did not get a request at 1.09pm that I can remember. The first conversation I had with Chief Sund in that time frame was at 1.28, 1.30. And in that conversation he indicated that he might be looking for National Guard approval.”
As you can see in this footage from CSPAN, Mr Irving was indeed in the House chamber at 1.09pm, when Mr Sund said he first called him.
At today’s hearing on January 6th Attack there was a discrepancy on phone call made by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving at 1:09pm that day.
CLIP: January 6th at 1:09pm — Irving can be seen on the House floor (near door on far left). pic.twitter.com/mrf7XZ49Cp
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 23, 2021
Finally, Mr Sund said an apparent intelligence failure ahead of the riot left Capitol Police unable to “properly prepare”.
He acknowledged that the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit had received a report from an FBI field office the evening before the attack. That report flagged social media posts that indicated extremist groups were preparing for “war”.
However, Mr Sund said the report never made it in front of him before the riot.
“The daily intelligence report indicated that the secretary of homeland security had not issued an elevated or imminent alert,” he told the Senate.
“Without the intelligence to properly prepare, the US Capitol Police were significantly outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent mob.”
The former police chief insisted the riot was “not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong”.
“No single civilian law enforcement agency, and certainly not the Capitol Police, is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent and co-ordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” he said.
Mr Sund said there had been “much conflicting information” presented by “various officials and the media” regarding the Capitol Police force’s readiness on January 6.
“Contrary to some of the reporting, the Capitol Police had an effective plan in place to handle the demonstrations and possible pockets of violence that were anticipated based on the available intelligence,” Mr Sund said.
That plan included placing the force in an “all hands on deck” status, the activation of “the largest number of civil disturbance platoons possible”, and an expanded perimeter barrier for the Capitol complex.
“When the group arrived at the perimeter, they did not act like any group of protesters I had ever seen,” he said.
“Unlike other heated protests, these protesters did not simply congregate to angrily voice their grievances. As soon as the group arrived at our perimeter, they immediately began to fight violently with the officers and to tear apart the steel crowd control barriers, using them to assault the officers.
“This mob was like nothing I have seen in my law enforcement career. The group consisted of thousands of well-co-ordinated, well-equipped violent criminals. They had weapons, chemical munitions, protective equipment, explosives and climbing gear.
“A number of them were wearing radio ear pieces, indicating a high level of co-ordination.”
Democratic Senator Gary Peters asked Mr Sund to elaborate on what he meant when he said the rioters were co-ordinated.
“These criminals came prepared for war. They came with their own radio system to co-ordinate the attack, and climbing gear and other equipment to defeat the Capitol’s security features,” the former police chief said.
“These people came specifically with equipment. You’re bringing climbing gear to a demonstration. You’re bringing explosives, you’re bringing chemical spray, you’re coming prepared.
“The fact that the group that attacked our west front, attacked … 20 minutes before the event over at the Ellipse (Donald Trump’s speech) ended means they were planning on our agency not being at full strength.
“You know, watching the other event, saying, ‘That event’s ending, OK, everybody get on post, they’re going to be marching our way’ – knowing that we might not be at full strength at that time.
“And also the fact that we were dealing with two pipe bombs that were specifically set right off the edge of our perimeter, to what I suspect, draw resources away. I think there was a significant co-ordination with this attack.”
Originally published as ‘I was stunned’: Urgent call during riot