New information about Capitol Hill riot security failures confirms that former President Donald Trump and his defense secretary pushed to deploy the National Guard while Army officials at the Pentagon were more concerned about "optics" regarding policing following the Black Lives Matter riots.
It's been revealed that military planners rejected the idea of National Guard deployment ahead of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, following news first reported by Vanity Fair that Trump had insisted on deploying troops to secure the 11th-hour "Make America Great Again" rally where he was set to deliver remarks.
"You're going to need 10,000 people…You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do," Trump told Christopher Miller, acting Secretary of Defense, at the White House on Jan. 5, the night before the attack, according to Raheem Kassam at The National Pulse. Miller responded at the meeting, "But you know, someone's going to have to ask for it."
According to Kassam, Miller obeyed the outgoing commander-in-chief's orders and attempted to ensure National Guard deployment in the face of an obstructionist Pentagon.
In an internal memo obtained by the Washington Post, Army leadership argued that the military shouldn't be needed to help police with traffic and crowd management, despite requests by city officials, unless more than 100,000 demonstrators were expected. The draft also claimed the call should be denied because no federal agency was identified to run the preparations and on-the-day operations, the resources of other federal agencies hadn't been exhausted, and law enforcement was "far better suited" for the task.
Sources told the Washington Post that deliberations at the Pentagon the weekend before the event underscored deep reluctance of several higher-ups. Army leadership made its position clear, citing those reasons among others.
According to the National Pulse, realizing that District officials weren't going to turn to the Justice Department for help instead, the Army relented after facing intense provocation from Miller and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley—the nation's highest-ranking military officer as well as the principal military advisor to the president, defense secretary, and National Security Council. Thus, the Army at first resisted demands from senior Trump administration officials including the defense secretary
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy agreed to support the request, so long as the lead agency was identified and all other federal agencies "exhausted their assets to support these events," according to the recommendation McCarthy sent in the final revised memo to Miller, who then approved.
Because the National Guard is trained to assist law enforcement during large-scale protests and has done so for decades in the District, the Army's initial impulse to consider refusing military involvement in the security arrangements is eyebrow-raising. According to the National Pulse, the revelation raises questions about the alleged attempts to ignore proper chain of command in addition to the narrative justifying ongoinging fortifications that continue to surround the Capitol building over the past two months.
According to The Pulse, Army spokeswoman Col. Cathy Wilkinson objected to the notion that the Army may have shirked responsibility leading up to the riot, noting via press statement that the Pentagon had provided 340 members of the District Guard to aid street closures and crowd control as asked. "Clearly, the Mayor's request was approved and supported," Wilkinson told reporters. "The draft memo was not signed or approved." She added that it's "customary" for Army staff to "provide options for Army senior leaders to inform their decision making process."
In the aftermath of the riot, top Pentagon officials have since emphasized that the Capitol Police and federal agencies did not request military backup beforehand, leaving the Defense Department unprepared to respond when the situation escalated, the Washington Post reported. The draft memo, however, suggests that Army leadership had been disinclined to take initiative from the outset.
According to The Pulse, the Army also feared potential backlash from the mainstream media, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and the political left, which would have led to strategic communication repair through public relations efforts. Pentagon leaders were skittish about using the military to support law enforcement on domestic soil.
Last June, Milley and then-defense secretary Mark Esper were lambasted by legislators and retired military personnel for appearing alongside Trump as federal law enforcement cleared racial justice protesters near the White House with force.
These same powers faced blowback from Democrats and left-wing activists for militarizing Washington with more than 5,000 National Guard troops in the city and 1,600 active-duty forces amassed nearby in response to the civil unrest that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd. Hence, what appears to have informed the decision-making process was political, media, and institutional pressure.
On Dec. 31, city officials wary of repeating what happened in June, submitted the narrow request to the Pentagon for help days later, which the National Guard determined would require 340 personnel.
The Army thought the proposal was light on details and did not want to authorize the move after the first review that resulted in the draft memo, a former senior Pentagon official told the Washington Post, stating that the Army and senior leadership were "scarred by the experiences of June" and that the military has long been hesitant to deploy for domestic matters involving law enforcement.
Senior officials were "very cognizant" that sending in the military "could be misconstrued by so many people as a power grab and play into the narrative that the military was on the cusp of overthrowing duly elected officials to redo an election," the former official said to the newspaper.
The Washington Post also confirmed that Bowser did not request the assistance of the National Guard for Jan. 6. In fact, the Democratic mayor discouraged it. Miller told Trump on the evening prior, "...someone's going to have to ask for it."
According to The National Pulse, Bowser did not but instead tweeted that she didn't want the Guard deployed: "To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD if such plans are underway."
The debate by Army bureaucrats is now under scrutiny from skeptical lawmakers attempting to understand how the Capitol building could have been left so vulnerable, accusing the Defense Department of reacting too slow to the Capitol Police's 11th-hour plea for military assistance as rioters breached federal property. While inquiries remain unanswered, political appointees and generals in-charge at the time have yet to be been called to testify on the matter before Congress.
According to The Pulse, what might have been the rationale behind the Army's unwillingness to co-operate and act on intelligence: "optics." In his first interview since the fateful day, former Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund said his supervisors were reluctant to take formal steps to place the National Guard on-call even as police intelligence suggested that the crowd invited to protest Trump's defeat would be much larger than earlier peaceful assemblies. Army Staff director Walter Piatt rebuffed Sund and others.
"I don't like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background," Piatt said, according to Sund's account published by the Washington Post. All six requests for National Guard assistance both before and during the crisis were denied, Sund alleged. House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving was hesitant to mobilize reinforcements, pressing that he wasn't comfortable with the "optics" of declaring an emergency ahead of the demonstration.