The men who were in charge of security during the U.S. Capitol assault told their stories in public on Tuesday for the first time. Their testimony at a Senate hearing was a tale of bad communications, bad intelligence and blame-laying. Lisa Desjardins reports, and Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.
The men who were in charge of security during the U.S. Capitol assault have told their story in public for the first time.
Their testimony today at a U.S. Senate hearing was a tale of bad communications, bad intelligence, and blame-laying.
Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.
It began powerfully. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza told senators of hours of hand-to-hand combat to secure the Capitol Rotunda on January 6.
Capt. Carneysha Mendoza:
I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day. Officers begged me for relief, as they were unsure how long they could physically hold the door closed, with the crowd continually banging on the outside of the door attempting to gain reentry.
This in a Capitol Complex now surrounded by razor wire, where, on January 6, a complete breakdown of security left five killed, another two deaths by suicide and some 140 people injured.
Senators heard from the top security officials during the attack. Former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving pointed to an intelligence failure.
Based on the intelligence, we all believed that the plan met the threat and that we were prepared. We now know that we had the wrong plan.
As did former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.
We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military-style coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol Building.
But Sund also indicated other internal problems.
I acknowledge that, under the pressure of an unprecedented attack, a number of systems broke down.
And, above it all, the question of why the National Guard was not deployed sooner. D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee, his forces were ready, but waiting to be invited to respond to the riot.
Robert Contee III:
I was surprised at the reluctance to immediately send the National Guard to the Capitol grounds. In the meantime, by 2:30 p.m., the District had requested additional officers from as far away as New Jersey.
Everett Sesker is a security consultant who directed the state police training commission in Maryland. In video of the chaos, he sees training and leadership issues.
I saw a lot of good officers trying to do their best. But, on the other hand, I saw a lot of confusion. I saw a lot of officers with no real direction.
Some also raise a failure of structure, that the lack of barriers, the breakable glass and the building itself were as great a problem.
When was the last time something like this happened at the Capitol? Not in my lifetime. Not in your lifetime. 1812, I think. So, War of 1812. So, now we're dealing with complacency. We have to battle that.
Back at the hearing…
Did we have failure to communicate here?
… news of major internal issues. Then-Police Chief Sund says he raised the idea of calling in the National Guard two days before the attack.
I met with Mr. Irving in his office. That's where I made the first request for the National Guard. He had indicated that: I don't know if I really like the optics.
Capitol Police cannot request the National Guard. They answer to a board dominated by the sergeants at arms, and they didn't think the Guard was necessary. Irving says that was based on intelligence, not optics.
Then, on the day of the attack, those wires crossed again, Sund says, delaying another National Guard request at a critical hour.
Sen. Roy Blunt:
Mr. Sund, do when you asked for National Guard assistance? Was it 1:09 or was it 2:00 p.m.?
It was 1:09, sir.
1:09. And who did you ask for assistance at 1:09?
It was from Mr. Irving, I believe.
No, I did not get a request at 1:09 that I can remember.
Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff summed up the issue.
Sen. Jon Ossoff:
The Capitol Police Board. So, there is no individual who has personal responsibility for the security of the U.S. Capitol Complex?
That's the way I interpret it, yes.
Another failure, an FBI intelligence report the night before the attack clearly warned that Trump supporters were — quote — "ready for war." But word never got through to either sergeant at arms or to the Capitol Police chief.
I actually, just in the last 24 hours, was informed by the department that they actually had received that report.
The hearing is just part of the January 6 response. Capitol Police are investigating some of its officers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for a 9/11-style commission, and she has launched a security review by retired Army General Russel Honore.
Meantime, at least 5,000 National Guard troops will remain at least a few more weeks. The temporary fencing and military-like zone for blocks around the Capitol will stay up, though many members of Congress want it to go.
Eleanor Holmes Norton represents Washington, D.C., in Congress. She says all of this hampers Congress, harms nearby neighborhoods, and is no longer needed.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton:
All of this should be done gradually. Those National Guards are needed at home. They certainly aren't needed now. If we have not had a deterrent effect by now, we will never have one. And I think that deterrent effect has set in.
But others want it to stay. In a statement, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman called for the fencing to become permanent.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar:
This was planned. We now know this was a planned insurrection.
The hearing is a first step in a potentially long look at the tangled security failures at the Capitol. Next week, lawmakers will talk with officials from the FBI and the Pentagon.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.
And for more on today's hearing, our Yamiche Alcindor joins me now from the White House, which is where you were on the day of the Capitol attack.
Yamiche, there were other flash points at the hearing. You were following it closely. Tell us what else you heard today.
This was a striking hearing on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers, as well as law enforcement officials, were going into detail and at times reliving that siege on the Capitol, talking about the lies, as well as the failures that led to that attack.
There was this big consensus, it seemed, among lawmakers that things need to get better, that this needs to be prevented. But there were also fireworks. And those fireworks centered on three Republican senators in particular, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
For Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in particular, those lawmakers, those senators are facing a lot of backlash, because, even after the attack, they voted against certifying the results of the election.
And there were some who really saw it as ironic and, at times, even wrong that they were able to then question law enforcement officials about what they could have done differently, when there are a lot of people who think those two senators should have done things differently.
Democrats, of course, see that they're part of this big lie that they talk about, that is, of course, being the — saying that the election was stolen from President Trump, which it was not.
Josh Hawley, in particular, also used his time questioning law enforcement officials to criticize Lieutenant General Russel Honore. Now, he is a retired general who House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped to do a review of the attack.
Josh Hawley in the hearing was saying that, essentially, he should not have said that there were police officers who were — quote, unquote — "complicit" in the attack. And he was asking law enforcement officials whether or not they were complicit. So that was really seen as him criticizing Lieutenant General Honore.
Also, Senator Ron Johnson, he was spreading at times disinformation in this hearing. He was suggesting that there like left-wing provocateur tours, as well as fake Trump supporters who were responsible for this attack.
But, Judy, that's just not right. The people who — the large number of people who carried out this attack, they were Trump supporters. They were wearing Trump symbols. They were also chanting and going after some of the targets that President Trump, former President Trump, had laid out, including, of course, former Vice President Mike Pence.
All of this is — the White House is really watching this closely and hoping that their attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, will be able to handle some of this once he gets into office.
Well, we know the investigation into all of this is going to continue.
Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, thank you.
Watch the Full Episode
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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