The new acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police on Tuesday offered House lawmakers a wide-ranging apology for the “failings” that allowed rioters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, saying the department should have been better prepared for the attack and did not do enough to protect those inside.
Acting chief Yogananda D. Pittman cited a lack of manpower, an insufficient supply of “less-lethal” weapons, confused and garbled communications, and a possible failure in lockdown procedures for leaving the Capitol and its occupants exposed to the marauding crowds that pressed their way into the building.
“We fully expect to answer to you and the American people for our failings on January 6th,” she told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, according to a prepared statement of her remarks obtained by The Washington Post.
But she also warned lawmakers that to prevent a similar incursion in the future, lawmakers will have to sacrifice public access to the building to bolster security measures.
“In my experience, I do not believe there was any preparations that would have allowed for an open campus in which lawful protesters could exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and at the same time prevented the attack on Capital grounds that day,” Pittman said.
The hearing is the beginning of what are expected to be extensive congressional inquiries into the failures in planning and security that led to the Capitol breach.
Among those who testified Tuesday were former Army secretary Ryan McCarthy, D.C. acting police chief Robert J. Contee III, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker of the D.C. National Guard, and representatives from the Secret Service, FBI, Justice Department, the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office and the Park Police.
Multiple participants in the briefing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door sessions, said law enforcement officials appeared to still be grappling with the extent of the peril that faced lawmakers that day.
Among the new details discussed in the meeting: that a group of lawmakers being evacuated from the House chamber were mistakenly first directed to the wrong room on Capitol grounds, instead of to the secure room where members were gathering, according to a person familiar with the briefing.
Lawmakers were particularly perturbed by the testimony of acting House sergeant at arms Timothy P. Blodgett, who touted the fact that “every Member and House staff went home without death or serious injury,” crediting that to the performance of both his office and the Capitol Police.
Following the briefing, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a committee member, said in an interview that no dead or maimed lawmakers was “a pretty low bar,” adding, “I firmly believe that is due to the courage of Capitol Police officers and blind luck.”
Pittman admitted that the Capitol police force was distracted and underprepared that day. She told lawmakers that the department had more than 1,200 officers on site when the attack began. The force has about 1,850 sworn officers, according to people briefed on the numbers.
That was “was no match for the tens of thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) attacking the Capitol and refusing to comply with lawful orders,” according to her prepared remarks.
Making matters worse, she said, was that as the riot was unfolding, officers were sent to respond to reports of pipe bombs sent to the nearby headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national parties, as well as “a vehicle with explosive chemicals and a firearm in plain view parked on the same block” as one of those bomb threats.
In comparison, Contee told lawmakers that every one of his 3,700 uniformed officers in the D.C. police force had been put on duty, working 12-hour shifts, in anticipation of the Jan. 6 demonstrations, according to his prepared remarks.
The D.C. police had also requested help from sister agencies in Maryland and Virginia, putting them on standby, as well as 300 members of the National Guard.
“However, these resources were barely enough to counter an event that had never happened in the history of the United States: a mob of thousands launching a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol,” Contee said, according to his prepared remarks.
It would eventually take seven hours to restore order and return the Capitol to Congress, Contee noted.
“The costs for this insurrection — both human and monetary — will be steep,” Contee said, estimating that the approximately 850 D.C. police officers deployed to the Capitol and 250 assigned to the surrounding area cost the city about $8.8 million in the week after the insurrection.
He said the attack “exposed weaknesses in the security of the most secure city in the country.”
The acting D.C. police chief also said he was “stunned at the tepid response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol” that day.
Pentagon officials have rejected that notion, saying they sought to move quickly and stressing that Capitol Police did not make a formal request for assistance in advance of the expected protests that day.
In his opening statement to the committee, McCarthy underscored that the Army, which oversees the D.C. Guard, doesn’t collect domestic intelligence and cannot plan for contingencies without a request from a federal or local agency or law enforcement.
McCarthy said the Justice Department was the “lead agency” ahead of Jan. 6 and the Defense Department played a supporting role. He said the Army was given no indication by federal or local law enforcement agencies that the protests on Jan. 6 would be any different in size, composition or threat than previous pro-Trump protests in late 2020.
“The response time and effectiveness could be greatly improved with a clear, predetermined command and control structure, authorities, rehearsals and integrated plans, and a shared understanding of intelligence assessments of the threat,” McCarthy said. “This country has the talent and resources to do anything.”
In the hearing, Pittman backed up the account of former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who told The Washington Post earlier this month that two days before the riot, he appealed to the three-member police board to issue an emergency declaration and authorize a request for backup to the National Guard. Pittman said that request was denied, echoing Sund’s description.
Last week, The Post reported that one of the three members of the police board, former House sergeant at arms Paul Irving, had denied the request because he believed lawmakers would not be happy with the show of force.
But another member of the board, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, issued a statement Tuesday after the committee briefing, saying his office had “no record of a request for an emergency declaration by then-Chief Sund,” that “there was no Board meeting” that took place on Sund’s timeline, and that he was “not aware of an USCP requests (verbal or written) being submitted to the Board requesting additional support prior to January 6, 2021,” the day of the riots.
Pittman, who was appointed to take over leadership of the Capitol Police less than a week after the insurrection, tried to balance her mea culpas to lawmakers with entreaties for their support in making improvements to security across the Capitol campus.
“As the Acting Chief, I take responsibility for the mistakes that were made by the Department, and I pledge to this Committee, the Congress, the American people, and my USCP colleagues, that we will do better going forward,” Pittman said, “but we need to make changes.”
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been constant tension over striking the right balance between Capitol security and protecting the public’s access to the building colloquially known as the People’s House. At least some of the “nonscalable” fencing, road closures and National Guard deployments that were put in place in the wake of this month’s Capitol riot are expected to remain in place through early February.
Some lawmakers bristled at the idea that protecting the Capitol from rioters would require turning the Capitol into a partial fortress.
“It is now obvious that intelligence agencies had ample evidence an angry mob would descend on Washington, with Congress’ meeting to certify the presidential election as the intended target,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement following the briefing. “The law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting the Capitol did not act on this intelligence or adequately prepare for the looming threat.”
But others said it was inevitable that there would soon be a “new reality” when it comes to Capitol security.
“We’re just starting to get into what is the Capitol going to look like,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), whose subcommittee has financial oversight of the Capitol Police.
Ryan said that in the short term, he supported keeping thousands of National Guard soldiers stationed at the building because Capitol Police needs time to recover. Pittman testified that many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Ryan said most of the force has continued working 12-hour shifts since the attack, leading to overall fatigue among the rank-and-file.
In the long term, Ryan said he expects that even after fencing comes down, the security perimeter around the Capitol will need to be widened — possibly to encircle the House and Senate office buildings as well. Before the riot, the area around the Capitol building was closed to cars, but open to bikes and pedestrians; it was also possible for cars to drive right up to at least one entrance of each of the office buildings.
Ryan said that while the post-9/11 security measures had been focused on vehicular threats, the Jan. 6 riot proved that a large gathering on foot could be just as dangerous.
“You want to people to have some level of access to their government but at the same time feel protected,” Ryan said.
The new Capitol security profile, he said, “will basically be that next step, past the 9/11 adjustments that were made . . . now, we’re a little bit beyond just the car bombs.”
Paul Sonne contributed to this report.
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