—Former president Donald Trump, in an interview with Steve Hilton of Fox News, Feb. 28, 2021
We’re going to try to have a high bar for fact checks of former president Donald Trump. His speech Sunday to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was mostly a replay of false claims he has said many times before, all documented in our Trump claims database. So we took a pass on that.
But this is something new. Trump’s claim generated a lot of attention in right-leaning circles, especially after Fox News headlined its story: “Trump says he requested 10K National Guard troops at Capitol on day of riot.”
A large majority of senators — even those who did not vote to convict him at his impeachment trial — regard Trump as responsible for the riot and believe he failed to act decisively as the violence unfolded. So it would be significant if Trump actually requested the dispatch of National Guard troops at the Capitol — especially if, as Trump suggests, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then blocked that deployment.
But it did not happen.
The fact that Trump at one point mentioned 10,000 National Guard troops is not new. On Jan. 22, Vanity Fair published an inside look at what transpired at the Pentagon during the insurrection, with the reporter in effect embedded with acting defense secretary Christopher Miller and his top aides during this period.
Here’s the key section of that article:
On the evening of January 5 — the night before a white supremacist mob stormed Capitol Hill in a siege that would leave five dead — the acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, was at the White House with his chief of staff, Kash Patel. They were meeting with President Trump on “an Iran issue,” Miller told me. But then the conversation switched gears. The president, Miller recalled, asked how many troops the Pentagon planned to turn out the following day. “We’re like, ‘We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,’” Miller responded. “And [Trump] goes, ‘You’re going to need 10,000 people.’ No, I’m not talking bulls---. He said that. And we’re like, ‘Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.’” At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, “‘You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.’ He said, ‘You’re going to need 10,000.’ That’s what he said. Swear to God.”
The reporter, Adam Ciralsky, asked Miller why Trump threw out such a big number: “The president’s sometimes hyperbolic, as you’ve noticed. There were gonna be a million people in the street, I think was his expectation.” (It turned out that Trump’s rally attracted merely thousands of people, though even in his Fox interview with Hilton, Trump still claimed that the crowd numbered “hundreds of thousands of people.”)
So 10,000 appears to be a guesstimate based on the president’s own inflated belief in his ability to draw a crowd. The statement did not come as part of a meeting to discuss how to handle the event. Instead, it appears to have been an offhand remark. That’s not the same thing as a “request.” (Trump certainly knew how to order the deployment of National Guard troops in June 2020.)
Trump then maintains that the Defense Department “took that number” and gave it to the Capitol Police.
But that also did not happen, according to officials.
Miller and other senior Pentagon officials never relayed the 10,000 figure to anyone outside the Defense Department, according to a former U.S. official who was familiar with the matter. “They didn’t act on it because based on discussions with federal and local law enforcement leadership, they didn’t think a force of that size would be necessary,” the former official said.
Indeed, the official Defense Department planning and execution memo on the Jan. 6 events also makes no mention of any such discussion. Instead, it notes the possible activation of 340 National Guard troops to assist the District government with traffic control.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials checked the records after Trump’s remarks. “We have no record of such an order being given,” he told The Fact Checker.
If Trump’s figure didn’t emerge from the inner circles at the Defense Department, then it certainly was not given to the Capitol Police or Pelosi’s office, as Trump claimed.
Coincidentally or not, Trump’s effort to blame Pelosi mirrors an effort by one of his biggest allies, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), to falsely claim that Pelosi blocked the dispatch of National Guard troops because she was worried about the optics.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, said Trump’s tale is “completely made up.”
Trump spokesman Jason Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pinocchio Test
On the day before the Jan. 6 rally, Trump appears to have mentioned 10,000 National Guard troops at a White House meeting on an unrelated matter. Contrary to his statement, he did not make a request or any sort of order to dispatch the troops. Otherwise, his comment would not have been regarded as typical Trump hype. Presumably if he had issued an order, he would have followed up to make sure it was carried out.
Trump goes further afield when he claims that his number was raised with the Capitol Police and that Pelosi, in “a big mistake,” rejected the offer of so many troops. That’s just fantasy.
Like many of Trump’s falsehoods, there’s a seed of reality here. But then the former president nurtures it into a bush of fictions as part of his continuing effort to evade responsibility for how his own actions led to the Capitol Hill riot. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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