Officials on the other end of the phone accused Piatt of denying their requests, he recalled, but he did not have the authority to approve them.
“I communicated this on the conference call, but those on the line were convinced that I was denying their request, despite [me] clearly stating three times that, ‘We are not denying your requests. We need to prepare a plan for when the secretary of the Army gains approval,’ ” Piatt said, referring to former Army secretary Ryan McCarthy.
The testimony came as Democrats in Congress probe deeper into the speed of the military’s response to the deadly riot, in which supporters of former president Donald Trump smashed their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to stop the certification of the election.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) initially requested additional forces at 1:34 p.m., but the request for National Guard troops was not approved until after 4:30, and the Guardsmen did not arrive at the Capitol until after 5, according to past accounts and testimony.
Piatt, the director of Army staff, testified along with Gen. Charles Flynn, who was then a three-star general and Army deputy chief of staff, and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. It marked the first testimony for the senior military officers, who have been accused by former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund of resisting his pleas for help at the Capitol, effectively slow-walking the military’s response.
For weeks, senior Pentagon officials had sought to limit the military’s involvement in response to domestic unrest. Flynn’s brother, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — Trump’s former national security adviser — had called for the military to play a hand in altering election results in Trump’s favor, and senior Pentagon officials had promised Bowser that the National Guard would have only a limited role in response to unrest, with no firearms or aircraft and only a few hundred members activated.
That backfired when the mob descended on the Capitol.
Flynn recalled on Tuesday being “shocked and angered” when he first learned of the violence at about 2:21 p.m., a few minutes after Congress had been breached. Piatt praised police on hand for their response, saying “many lives were saved” because of it.
Flynn — who has since been promoted to become the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific — acknowledged that the government response could have been better.
Considering his brother’s involvement in questioning the election results, Flynn’s role in the response has been sensitive. Army officials falsely said for days in January that he was not present during the conference call, until Flynn conceded in a statement that he had “entered the room after the call began and departed before the call ending” because he expected a decision from McCarthy to deploy the National Guard.
Flynn told lawmakers on Tuesday that he entered a room in which Piatt was speaking with other authorities during the call, and heard them asking for the National Guard while sounding “highly agitated, and even panicked.”
“Reaching his side, I recall hearing an unidentified person on the other end of the speaker phone tensely ask, ‘Are you denying our request?’ ” Flynn recalled, referring to Piatt. Piatt assured them that was not the case, and that he was waiting for an approval to use National Guard troops at the Capitol, Flynn said.
Even once the approval came from acting defense secretary Christopher Miller after 4 p.m., National Guard members still needed to be outfitted in riot gear at the D.C. Armory and bused to the Capitol. They were sworn in after 5 p.m.
During the hearing, the FBI’s Wray faced a fresh barrage of criticism over what Democrats said were abject intelligence failures leading up to the Jan. 6 violence, even as tech companies and the public could see the growing danger.
“If the CEO of Parler knew what was going on, and half the folks on the Internet knew what was going on, wouldn’t you describe that as an intelligence failure?” asked Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
“I’m not trying to quibble on terminology,” replied Wray, who then admitted that the FBI needed to do a better job on handling intelligence.
Repeatedly, Wray was pressed about a Jan. 5 report issued by the FBI’s Norfolk field office, warning that online discussion boards were talking of “war” at the Capitol the next day and urging pro-Trump protesters to violently attack the building and break down doors to keep Trump in the White House.
“It’s crystal clear to me,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), “that the FBI knew or had reason to know that there was going to be violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Wray said that the FBI shared what he called “raw, unverified” intelligence about talk of violence with the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies, and he said the FBI is working to be able to better distinguish online chatter from serious threats to security.
“I am not aware of any actionable intelligence that we failed to pass on,” Wray said.
In a separate hearing on Tuesday by the Committee on House Administration, U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton detailed a series of additional shortcomings that his team identified in the course of its ongoing investigation, including evidence that rioters on Jan. 6 stole a dozen vests and helmets from Capitol Police during the melee and proof that certain participants carried high-caliber firearms to the demonstration, storing some in a vehicle parked close to the Capitol grounds.
A new interim report from Bolton identified several gaps in training and communications that hampered the Capitol Police response. But one in particular seized lawmakers’ attention: Only 22 of 29 members of one unit had completed the certification for the weapons they carry — and those who had not suffered “no repercussions.” Bolton described the findings as “devastating.”
Democrats also raised concerns about Bolton’s recent discovery that the Capitol Police had contracted a training organization that displayed slogans and iconography on its website favored by white supremacist groups. Bolton said that the company, Northern Red, ran training for the Capitol Police about four times in 2019 and twice in 2018.
“We felt it was necessary to alert the department as quickly as possible once we came across that information so if they had plans to continue to use this company, that we could put a stop to it immediately,” Bolton said. “The appearance of it raises issues and concerns. There are better options of doing training.”
The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) wondered aloud if both the lapses in weapons certification and the questionable training contributed to the police’s weak response to the pro-Trump rioters who convened at the Capitol.
“I am concerned that the department responded . . . with tremendous force to essentially peaceful protesters under Black Lives Matter here before, and yet we had a riot of white supremacists and there was no reaction,” Lofgren said. “I’m wondering if the training by an organization that maybe had those ties had an impact on the disparate understanding of what the risk was.”
Bolton said he could not answer.
The inspector general appeared alongside Gretta Goodwin, the Government Accountability Office director in charge of justice and law enforcement programs, who in 2017 conducted an audit of the Capitol Police Board, the oversight entity for the Capitol Police force. She testified that GAO has “been attempting to contact the Board since 2017, and we have not gotten any substantive response” indicating whether its members have taken steps to implement any of her team’s recommendation.
Republican lawmakers — who have urged Congress to overhaul the board as a matter of first concern before implementing other changes to the Capitol Police force — seized on that lack of response, which Goodwin testified was dramatically worse than the response rate from other agencies such as the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
“I think it’s pretty telling that you haven’t had a lot of cooperation,” said the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill).