The acting chief of the Capitol Police apologized to Congress on Tuesday for the agency’s massive security failures Jan. 6, acknowledging during a closed-door briefing that the department knew there was a “strong potential for violence” but failed to take adequate steps to prevent what she described as a “terrorist attack.”
Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of police, also confirmed that the Capitol Police Board, an obscure panel made up of three voting members, had initially declined a request two days earlier for National Guard troops and then delayed for more than an hour as the violence unfolded Jan. 6 before finally agreeing to a plea from the Capitol Police for National Guard troops, according to prepared testimony obtained by The New York Times.
In an extraordinary admission, Chief Pittman, who was not the acting chief at the time of the siege, told members of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees funding for the agency, that the Capitol Police “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.” She added, “I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the department.” Chief Pittman’s predecessor, Steven Sund, resigned after the riot.
Her comments offered the fullest detailed account to date about police preparations Jan. 6 in which thousands of angry protesters, believing false claims that the election had been stolen, marched on the Capitol at the behest of former president Donald Trump.
Speaking by video conference in a virtual briefing, Chief Pittman told the committee that the department “should have been more prepared for this attack,” according to the remarks.
Chief Pittman said her department knew that Jan. 6 would be unlike previous protests. She said her department knew that militia groups and white supremacist organizations would descend on Washington.
“We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event,” she said. “We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target. The department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough.”
She said the Capitol Police had 1,200 people working on site when the attack occurred, which was “no match” for “the tens of thousands of insurrectionists.”
Two days before the attack, Mr. Sund requested that the Capitol Police Board declare a state of emergency and authorize a request to secure National Guard support. The board denied the request, according to Chief Pittman, but encouraged Mr. Sund to contact the National Guard to determine how many guardsmen could be sent to the Capitol on short notice, which he did.
As the protesters became an increasing threat to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Mr. Sund asked for more help from federal agencies and law enforcement agencies in the area.
“He also lobbied the board for authorization to bring in the National Guard, but he was not granted authorization for over an hour,” Chief Pittman said.
During the hearing, the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard told committee members that his authority to quickly deploy the guard was removed before the riot. Major-General William J. Walker said he had such authority for July 4, but the Pentagon required additional approval for a request for the Guard during the Capitol attack, according to a person familiar with the testimony.
Maj.-Gen. Walker testified that Mr. Sund called him as the threat to the Capitol increased Jan. 6 and that he immediately notified the Army.
“On my own, I started preparing people to be ready, but I had to wait for specific approval to go out to launch,” Maj.-Gen. Walker said. “I was in constant communication with the U.S. Army leadership who was acting on behalf of the secretary of the Army.”
Two of the board members at the time of the attack have already resigned: Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at arms, and Michael C. Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms. The third member, J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, is still on the board. Mr. Blanton was nominated by Mr. Trump in December, 2019, and confirmed by the Senate that same month. The chief of the Capitol Police serves in an ex officio, non-voting capacity.
“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 Capitol grounds that day,” Chief Pittman said.
In the aftermath of the attack, many officers are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, “particularly after the loss of two of our officers directly and indirectly as a result of the events of Jan. 6.” Officers also have been experiencing an increase in coronavirus infections.
During the briefing, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, Timothy P. Blodgett, also said it was “clear there was a failure of preparation,” citing poor communications and a weak perimeter defence of the Capitol.
“Whether it was insufficient or conflicting intelligence, lacking ability to translate that intelligence into action, insufficient preparation or an inadequate ability to mobilize partner agencies for immediate assistance, a series of events, once thought unfathomable, unfolded, allowing our most sacred halls to be breached,” Mr. Blodgett said.
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