Capitol Police inability to secure seat of U.S. government raises serious questions

The force said last week it had a comprehensive plan to keep Congress safe

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and other members take cover as rioters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and other members take cover as rioters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 6, 2021 at 10:01pm

After a violent mob supporting President Donald Trump’s undemocratic effort to overturn the Electoral College results terrorized the Capitol complex Wednesday, questions abound over how that mob breached the Capitol Police security posture.

The opaque federal police force said last week that it had a comprehensive plan to keep Congress safe while lawmakers certify the Electoral College win by Joe Biden. But what transpired was a failure, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee, the panel that oversees Capitol Police funding.

“There were clearly enormous, strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anybody else who was a part of coordinating this effort here,” said Ryan, an Ohio Democrat. “This is the United States Capitol building with the United States Congress in session handling the presidential election process.”

The mob broke windows, infiltrated both the Senate and House chambers, and offices of lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The rioters caused Congress’ deliberations to be delayed by hours and the campus went into a lockdown.

Security barricades the door of the House chamber as rioters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A woman shot at the Capitol was later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to Dustin Sternbeck, communications director for the Metropolitan Police Department. He said more details, such as how that incident happened, would be available in the future.

At a late afternoon press conference, MPD Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said five weapons were recovered along with 13 arrests. None of those arrested were D.C. residents, Contee said. The Capitol Police provided no information on this front.

It is unclear how the Capitol Police force — with 1,879 sworn officers and a budget of $515.5 million — was unable to protect Congress. And lawmakers want that to be examined.

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Chairperson Zoe Lofgren of the House Administration Committee, which has oversight of the Capitol Police, said there will be a review of the security breach.

“The breach today at the U.S. Capitol raises grave security concerns,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “I intend to have the Committee on House Administration work with the bipartisan House and Senate leadership to address these concerns and review the response in coming days.”

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters also called for a review.

Ryan said there was enough time to prepare and noted he had several conversations with the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Capitol Police as recently as Tuesday.

“Nobody belongs on the Capitol Plaza,” Ryan said. “Nobody ever goes on the Capitol steps. That is an illegal act.” He added that the mob members should have been immediately arrested.

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When asked if Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund should resign, Ryan suggested there could be changes at the top.

“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon because this is an embarrassment both on behalf of the mob, and the president, and the insurrection, and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur,” Ryan said.

Eva Malecki, a Capitol Police spokesperson, did not respond to requests for comment.

There were videos on Twitter that showed a Capitol Police officer taking a photo with a mob participant inside the Capitol and of Capitol Police officers removing gates, allowing rioters to flow past the barriers. Ryan said he has seen the videos and would be looking into those matters.

“There was a strategic breakdown for sure and you can bet your ass we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Ryan said.

Jennifer Shutt, Michael Macagnone and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.