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DOD Took Hours To Approve National Guard Request During Capitol Riot, Commander Says

Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, is seen during a joint hearing to discuss the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
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Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, is seen during a joint hearing to discuss the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Updated at 3:01 p.m. ET

It took more than three hours for former President Donald Trump's Defense Department to approve a request for the D.C. National Guard to intervene in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the commanding general of the outfit told senators on Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. William Walker testified that he had National Guard troops at the ready and sitting idly for hours before he was finally given authorization to send them into the field. Walker said that the delay was caused at least in part over concerns of the optics of sending uniformed troops to the scene.

His testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees comes as Congress holds a series of hearings about security preparations for and the response to the violence at the Capitol this year.

The timeline

"At 1:49 p.m., I received a frantic call from then-chief of U.S. Capitol Police, Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter at the Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters," Walker testified.

"Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many guardsmen as I could muster."

Walker said he "immediately" alerted Army senior leadership of the request. He was not informed of the required approval from then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller until 5:08 p.m., he said — "3 hours and 19 minutes later."

"We already had guardsmen on buses ready to move to the Capitol. Consequently, at 5:20 p.m. (in under 20 minutes), the District of Columbia National Guard arrived at the Capitol. We helped to reestablish the security perimeter at the east side of the Capitol to facilitate the resumption of the joint session of Congress," he said.

Walker said he had taken it upon himself to move the National Guard members closer to the Capitol in anticipation of the approval to mobilize. He said about 155 members were ready hours earlier, and he said their assistance "could have made a difference" in pushing back the crowd.

The Army major general testified that the day before the insurrection, he received a letter with an "unusual" restriction on deploying any quick-reaction force service members unless granted explicit approval by then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.

"I found that requirement to be unusual, as was the requirement to seek approval to move guardsmen supporting the Metropolitan Police Department to move from one traffic control point to another," Walker said.

"They didn't like the optics"

Walker said that Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt and Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn were concerned about the optics of sending the National Guard to the scene of the uprising. Hetold the senators that there were concerns that the presence of uniformed troops might "inflame" the protesters.

He said Piatt and Flynn relayed to him: "It wouldn't be their best military advice to send uniformed guardsmen to the Capitol because they didn't like the optics. And they had also said that it could 'inflame' [the protesters]."

Robert Salesses, a Defense Department official who also testified on Wednesday, said that "events in the spring" contributed to concerns about National Guard presence. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., later clarified that Salesses was referring to civil unrest over the spring and summer of 2020, which was a response to police violence against Black Americans.

In June 2020, the National Guard came under particular scrutiny for its handling of peaceful protesters as then-President Trump walked to a nearby church that had been damaged during earlier protests, some of which were violent.

The role of intelligence or lack thereof

Wednesday's testimony highlighted a number of apparent failures within law enforcement's operations and intelligence gathering and sharing, leading to bipartisan dismay at how the large mob had been allowed to breach the Capitol complex.

The attack on the Capitol had been planned for weeks, including on publicly accessible Internet forums. Former Capitol security officials testified last week that they did not receive the intelligence they needed to adequately prepare. On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said he believed the bureau followed the proper protocols in disseminating the relevant intelligence.

Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on Wednesday noted that multiple reports of potential threats had been issued ahead of the attack. Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, said they lacked the specific intelligence that there were plans to storm the Capitol. She also noted the ongoing challenge of sorting general chatter online from actual threats.

Trump himself tweeted weeks before the event, "Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" and was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting the riot, though the Senate later acquitted him of the charge.

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Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for . Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.