The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Army falsely denied Flynn’s brother was involved in key part of military response to Capitol riot

Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn is the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training.
Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn is the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training. (Lisa Ferdinando/DOD)
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The Army falsely denied for days that Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, the brother of disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, was involved in a key meeting during its heavily scrutinized response to the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Charles Flynn confirmed in a statement issued to The Washington Post on Wednesday that he was in the room for a tense Jan. 6 phone call during which the Capitol Police and D.C. officials pleaded with the Pentagon to dispatch the National Guard urgently, but top Army officials expressed concern about having the Guard at the Capitol.

Flynn left the room before the meeting was over, anticipating that then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was in another meeting, would soon take action to deploy more guard members, he said.

“I entered the room after the call began and departed prior to the call ending as I believed a decision was imminent from the Secretary and I needed to be in my office to assist in executing the decision,” Flynn said.

The general’s presence during the call — which has not previously been reported — came weeks after his brother publicly suggested that President Donald Trump declare martial law and have the U.S. military oversee a redo of the election. There is no indication that Charles Flynn shares his brother’s extreme views or discharged his duties at the Pentagon on Jan. 6 in any manner that was influenced by his brother.

It makes sense that Flynn, as the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training, would have been involved in the Pentagon response. The D.C. Guard answers to the president, but the president delegates control over the force to the defense secretary and the Army secretary, essentially leaving it to top Army officials to make critical decisions regarding the District’s military force. Flynn, however, is not in the chain of command.

The Army’s initial denial of Flynn’s participation in the critical Jan. 6 meeting, despite multiple inquiries on the matter, comes as lawmakers demand transparency from the Defense Department in the aftermath of one of Washington’s gravest national security failures, which left one police officer and four rioters dead, the Capitol desecrated and the lives of Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress endangered.

Supporters of President Trump crossed barricades and began marching toward the back of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

The episode highlights the challenge for the Army in having an influential senior officer whose brother has become a central figure in QAnon, the extreme ideology that alleges Trump was waging a battle with Satan-worshiping Democrats who traffic children. Michael Flynn, who previously ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and left the Army as a three-star general, has espoused QAnon messages, and QAnon adherents are among those who have been charged in connection with the attempted insurrection. In November, Trump announced he had pardoned Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

The night before the Capitol siege, Michael Flynn addressed a crowd of Trump supporters at Freedom Plaza near the White House, saying: “This country is awake tomorrow. . . . The members, the members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate, those of you who are feeling weak tonight . . . we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie.”

McCarthy, who left office as the Trump administration concluded Wednesday, said in a Jan. 12 interview with The Post that he was not on the call, implying he could not address whether Flynn was. But he defended Flynn’s character, saying he has known him for years.

“Charlie Flynn is an officer of an incredibly high integrity,” McCarthy said. “Multiple combat tours. He has buried a lot of people. This guy has given a lot to this country. It is incredibly awkward for this officer every day for what is going on with him and his brother, but he puts his head down in, and he is locked in to serve the Constitution.”

Army officials, before and after that interview, denied that Flynn appeared during the call.

“HE WAS NOT IN ANY OF THE MEETINGS!” one Army official said on Jan. 12 in an email to The Post.

Like several others interviewed, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

After being approached with the accounts of multiple officials on the call, the Army sent a statement confirming Flynn participated.

The teleconference, organized by D.C. officials after authorities already had declared a riot at the Capitol, focused on what actions the military could take in response to the violence, with the Capitol Police chief pleading for help and the acting D.C. police chief growing incredulous at the Army’s reluctance to engage. The call included senior Army officials at the urging of Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, according to one person with direct knowledge of the situation.

Five officials who were on the call shared similar stories in which Army officials on the line said they were concerned about the visuals of sending National Guard members to the Capitol.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has since resigned in the wake of the security failure, and acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III were flabbergasted by the Army’s reaction, according to four people on the call. Sund had stressed that the Capitol had been breached by protesters and told those on the call that he had reports of shots being fired on the scene.

Sund, in an interview with The Post, previously said that another general on the call — Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, the director of the Army Staff — raised concerns about guard members appearing at the Capitol.

“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 and others on the call.

Piatt denied those remarks in a statement last week.

“I did not make the statement or any comments similar to what was attributed to me by Chief Sund in The Washington Post article — but would note that even in his telling he makes it clear that neither I, nor anyone else from [the Department of Defense], denied the deployment of requested personnel,” Piatt said.

It was at times difficult for the participants of the call to discern which top Army official was speaking. Officials on the call recalled hearing two Army leaders discussing the “optics” and “visual” of having National Guard members respond at the Capitol. One of the Army leaders described the protesters as “peaceful,” and Contee responded that “they’re not peaceful anymore,” two of the officials said.

U.S. defense officials have emphasized that federal law enforcement was better placed to clear the Capitol of rioters than members of the D.C. Guard, the entirety of which was ultimately activated by the Pentagon. Guard members arrived within hours of the call to help establish a perimeter around the Capitol grounds.

“If you ever cleared buildings with people that don’t do it for a living, you could have some very challenging types of things happen,” a senior U.S. defense official said in an interview.

Army officials declined to answer several questions about Flynn’s statement, including how long he was in the room during the call, whether he said anything, and if he was the one who described the crowd at the Capitol as mostly peaceful.

The Army also declined to answer why it falsely said for days that Flynn, who already has been confirmed by the Senate for a promotion to four-star general, was not involved.

“Thank you for the opportunity to comment, however we have nothing further to add,” the Army said in response to questions posed by The Post through email.

One official directly familiar with the situation said there was concern in both the Army and National Guard about possible political fallout if it was discovered that Flynn was involved in the Army’s deliberations. That is despite it being commonplace that the person in Flynn’s role would have been involved.

Defense officials have repeatedly defended their response to the assault on the Capitol, noting that D.C. officials sought a limited mission for the National Guard that day after thousands of guard members were deployed in the District in June during protests for racial justice. The D.C. National Guard activated 340 guard members in consultation with D.C. officials, with a limited, unarmed mission to staff traffic barriers and Metro stations so additional police officers would be available to deal with crowds.

Sund also did not seek National Guard assistance ahead of time — a reflection, he later said, of senior House and Senate security officials turning down his request to do so.

McCarthy said in his interview with The Post that without a plan to assist Capitol Police, it was “very challenging to understand” what was happening at the Capitol. Military officials said they didn’t want to send the Guard into a combustible situation without any planning that could have made matters worse.

“We were trying to get a handle on this,” McCarthy said. “And when we got moving, we moved as fast as we could from a cold start, not configured to take a reaction.”

Missy Ryan contributed to this report.