WASHINGTON - Law enforcement officials in charge of protecting the U.S. Capitol repeatedly declined offers of additional assistance ahead of Wednesday’s protest-turned-riot that forced lawmakers to take shelter, delaying certification of the results of the country’s presidential election.
The allegations, from defense and military officials, come a day after large crowds of extremists supporting President Donald Trump pushed past barricades and members of the Capitol Police to rampage through the building.
"We engaged repeatedly," Assistant Secretary of Defense Ken Rapuano told reporters Thursday, regarding discussions between the Army National Guard and Capitol Police in the weeks leading up the riot.
“We asked more than once,” he said. "The final return [answer] that we got on Sunday [January] the 3rd was that they would not be asking DoD [the Defense Department] for assistance."
Video from Wednesday shared on social media and by news organizations shows hundreds of pro-Trump extremists overrunning barriers and police checkpoints as they pushed into the Capitol. Others evaded police altogether, scaling walls and smashing windows to get inside.
“There was tremendous confusion coming out of the Capitol,” said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who had been helping to coordinate the response by members of the Army National Guard.
"Clearly the Capitol Hill police, their capability was being overrun," he added. “It was very hard to get to the adequate read of the disposition of their officers, how we could tie in with them.”
As a result, McCarthy said, he and officials with Washington’s Metropolitan Police force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation pushed forward with what he described as a “hasty plan” to retake and secure the Capitol.
About four hours later, he said, the Capitol was secured with the help of about 340 National Guard troops that initially had been assigned to help the city of Washington manage traffic and do crowd control, along with another 1,100 National Guard troops mobilized by acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to help bring the situation under control.
Other officials voiced anger over the perceived lack of preparation for Wednesday’s events.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser slammed what she described as “catastrophic security failures” that allowed the mob to enter the Capitol.
“Obviously it was a failure, or you would not have police lines breached and people entering the building by breaking windows and terrorizing the people, the members of Congress,” she said. “There's going to have to be a real investigation into what happened.”
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police, also took to Twitter to call for a full investigation.
There will be many videos, some with raise concern, some will show heroism. We need a full investigation on how the Capitol's security was breached this quickly. As the ranking member on the committee that funds the Capitol Police, I intend to be at the forefront of that inquiry.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 7, 2021
“I have had two phone calls with the chief of the Capitol Police and one with the Secretary of the Army in the last 14 hours,” Murphy tweeted Thursday. “We need major reform to the way we defend the Capitol and we need to get started now.”
The Capitol Police announced late Thursday that one its officers had died from injuries suffered in Wednesday’s chaos. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick died Thursday evening, Capitol Police Communications Director Eva Malecki said in a statement. She said Sicknick “was injured while physically engaging with protesters . . . returned to his division office and collapsed . . . was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.”
The breach of the Capitol building is costing some officials their jobs.
The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, Thursday requested and accepted the resignation of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger because of Wednesday’s security failures.
Statement from @senatemajldr on the resignation of the US Senate's sergeant-at-arms. pic.twitter.com/PSPhEfIIDV— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 8, 2021
Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund also submitted his resignation late Thursday, a source with knowledge of the matter told the Associated Press, adding the chief’s last day would be January 16.
In a statement earlier in the day, Sund defended his officers’ actions, saying they “responded valiantly” while facing down a mob wielding metal pipes, chemical irritants and other weapons.
But he did not say why he had declined additional manpower and resources.
Capitol Police had a “robust plan” to address peaceful protests, Sund said. “But make no mistake — these mass riots were not First Amendment [legally protected] activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.”
The Capitol Police were not the only ones caught by surprise at the violent nature of the mob.
“There was no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol,” Washington’s acting police chief, Robert Contee, said Thursday, adding the focus was mostly on larger crowds.
Military and defense officials, who said they depend entirely on federal and local law enforcement agencies for domestic intelligence, likewise said none of it contained any credible threats of violence.
"The assessment that we got repeatedly was no indications of significant violent protests,” said the Defense Department’s Rapuano.
"There were general descriptions of the internet traffic … the credibility of that information is always at question," he said.
The Army’s McCarthy added that what intelligence was shared was “all over the board,” suggesting crowds ranging in size from 2,000 people to throngs of up to 80,000.
“It was very challenging,” McCarthy said.
For now, Rapuano and McCarthy said they are focused on ensuring security of the Capitol through President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
The National Guard is constructing a 2-meter unscalable fence that will remain around the Capitol for at least 30 days. They also said the acting defense secretary has mobilized 6,200 National Guard troops from nearby states [Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania] to help maintain security.
Washington Mayor Bowser said she is issuing an emergency order that will last through January 21, the day after the inauguration of Joe Biden as president. The order allows city officials to “implement orders as they see fit” to protect people and property in the District of Columbia, such as curfews or altering of business hours.
Jeff Custer contributed to this report.