Despite an almost total lack of communication from the Pentagon, FBI, Justice Department or White House, we’re beginning to see some answers to the question of what went wrong at the Capitol — why there was such inadequate preparation for the mob attack on Congress on Wednesday, January 6. But many questions remain.
The New York Times this morning has a front page piece titled Inside a Deadly Siege: How a String of Failures Led to a Dark Day at the Capitol. The paper edition of the NYT I received this morning uses the phrases “flood of failures” and “cascading failures” in the headers it attaches to the story. It also says “a full reckoning will take months, or even years, and many lawmakers have called for a formal commission to investigate the debacle.” I support convening such a commission. I think we can begin to see some of the crucial elements of the failure. There’s blame to be shared but there are also unanswered questions.
We now know that Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, sent a letter the day before the mob attack to the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army that specifically asks them not to intervene: “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 [Metropolitan Police Department] if such plans are underway.”
We can guess that Bowser sent this out of a concern that the MPD would be blindsided, as it had been this summer during Black Lives Matter protests by the sudden appearance of federal forces (in unmarked uniforms) without prior consultation. In this event, she left the Capitol without adequate protection.
There are many videos of the mob attack and they show much weaker police protection for the Capitol and members of Congress than been been provided in advance for many other demonstrations and events. We know the Capitol Hill Police Department is large and well-funded (1,879 officers; $515 million annual budget) and has well-established protocols for seeking support from others. An important unanswered question is what was the plan for protection the Capitol and the Congress? Who devised that plan? Who provided input? Who judged it adequate?
The New York Times article reports that “Federal agencies and Capitol Police issued no warnings in the days leading up to the riots that the protests could turn violent, despite countless posts on right wing social media sites pledging confrontation and even bloodshed.” We need to know what intelligence was gathered in advance of the event and with whom it was shared. What did the Capitol Hill Police leadership know about the prospects of violence and what did Mayor Bowser, the Chief of the MPD and other D.C. officials know? There appears to have been a massive failure of intelligence — but why?
We know next to nothing about the advance planning of the U.S. Capitol Police. Its leadership has resigned, and it has so far refused all requests for additional information. The USCP has made many plans for other demonstrations and public events. How was this plan different and why? What information did the USCP have about what to expect (numbers, tactics, etc.) and who provided that information.
The Pentagon has released a Timetable for December 31, 2020 – January 6, 2021 that gives some insight into federal government’s actions and non-actions in the events. Released on Friday, January 8, it refers to the events as “First Amendment Protests.” On initial reading I found that a peculiar designation, but then I note that Mayor Bowser’s January 5 letter refers to “this week’s First Amendment activities.”
The Timetable is largely focused on who in the federal government considered, and when, what support, if any, would be provided to the Capitol Hill Police and the Metropolitan Police Department by various branches of the National Guard. The Timetable is explicit in noting that “there is no request for DoD support.” And it is explicit that Mayor Bowser’s request, which was made on December 31, only calls for support from 340 members of the DC National Guard, largely to provide traffic control. These make the Timetable read very much like a bureaucratic CYA document.
Did those who were involved at the federal level, especially at the Department of Defense, think this request was adequate to the need? Have they ever in the past counseled a need for greater support?
The Timetable also makes it clear that before approving Mayor Bowser’s request, that the Acting Secretary of Defense met with various Cabinet Officers (unspecified) and then with the President. (“President concurs in activation of the DCNG to support law enforcement.”) Would the President normally be involved in such requests? Since the President himself was the prime sponsor of the rally that turned into a riot/insurrection, was it appropriate that the President be involved?
While the riot was in progress, did the White House make any request or issue any directive about what should be done to restore order?
A last set of questions to which we do not have clear answers concern when requests were made for additional support from units of the National Guard, who received these requests, were they were initially refused or delayed, and when was authorization given? There have been conflicting news accounts. There have also been suggestions that the chain of command for deployment of units of the National Guard in D.C. are overly complicated. There are reports, for example, that a request from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to mobilize that state’s National Guard unit went unanswered by DoD officials for several hours while the insurrection was in progress.
We need answers to these questions. A national commission would be the right way to gain answers. Outgoing Capitol Police chief: House, Senate security officials hamstrung efforts to call in National Guard
On Empty Wheel, Marcy Wheeler today (1/11/21) provides valuable additional context for what happened: Four Data Points on the January 6 Insurrection.
The Washington Post last night (1/10/21) provides reporting on a first interview with Steven Sund, the Capitol Hill Police Chief, who resigned immediately after the event. He recounts his frustration with trying to arrange National Guard backup in advance of the event. Carol Leonnig, Aaron Davis, Peter Hermann and Karoun Demirjian, Outgoing Capitol Police chief: House, Senate security officials hamstrung efforts to call in National Guard.