Capitol Police chief, sergeant-at-arms acknowledge failure to protect against Jan. 6 riot

Pittman: Lockdown policy ‘may not have been consistently followed’

Pro-Trump rioters occupy the West Front of the Capitol and the inauguration stands on Jan. 6, 2021.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Pro-Trump rioters occupy the West Front of the Capitol and the inauguration stands on Jan. 6, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 26, 2021 at 4:31pm, Updated at 5:51pm

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda D. Pittman on Tuesday apologized to Congress and acknowledged her department’s failure to adequately act on intelligence before a violent mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Pittman, who took over the force when former Chief Steven Sund resigned on Jan. 8, said in a statement to the House Appropriations Committee that the Capitol Police knew by Jan. 4 that the event would pose a security threat unlike any protests in 2020.

“We knew that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would be attending,” Pittman said in her prepared statement. “We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”

Appropriators who fund the Capitol Police are now asking why the intelligence that Pittman cited was not used to better protect the Capitol on the day of the riot.

“But the real question is, you know, why was that intelligence not acted upon? So now we know they had it. We know they apologized, but we want to know why it wasn’t acted upon,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said during a news conference.

“We want to know why the board that oversees the Capitol Police did not act upon that, did not want to allow for an increased number of support from the National Guard or whomever.”

Pittman said on Jan. 4 that Sund asked the Capitol Police Board, which comprises the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, to declare a state of emergency and authorize a request for National Guard support, but the board denied the request. As a result of the security failure, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger resigned. Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton is the only member of the three-member Capitol Police Board who has not resigned.

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Blanton, however, pushed back on the acting chief’s claims in withering terms.

“Despite the comments made today by the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Acting Chief before the House Appropriations Committee, then-Chief Sund did not reach out to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) with a request for an emergency declaration or seeking National Guard support. The AOC has no record of a request for an emergency declaration by then-Chief Sund to the Capitol Police Board. While then-Chief Sund may have engaged in conversations with other members of the Board, no such conversation occurred with the Architect or any AOC employee involved in Board matters,” Blanton said in a statement released late in the afternoon on Tuesday.

“In addition, there was no Board meeting as indicated by the Acting Chief. While USCP leadership may have met with or spoken to other security colleagues, no such conversations were held with AOC employees involved in Board matters. Furthermore, the AOC is not aware of any USCP requests (verbal or written) being submitted to the Board requesting additional support prior to January 6, 2021,” Blanton continued.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called the lapses in coordination regarding the National Guard’s deployment “profoundly troubling” and noted that law enforcement agencies did not act on the intelligence or properly prepare for the “looming threat.”

Ryan also questioned why the commander of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker, was restricted by the Pentagon from addressing the situation. “Why was the authority taken away from Gen. Walker with the D.C. National Guard to be able to make split-second decisions? That authority was assumed by the Pentagon, and so why was that the case, which slowed down the response?” Ryan said.

House appropriators were privately briefed by the relevant agencies that were involved in the preparation for and response to the Capitol insurrection.

The Capitol Police “should have been more prepared for this attack,” Pittman said, and she noted that her department’s “inability to immediately secure the U.S. Capitol emboldened the insurrectionists and horrified millions of American(s).”

Acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy P. Blodgett also submitted a statement to the panel and said, “It is clear there was a failure of preparation.”

Investigations

The department has many questions to answer about the events of that date, which resulted in five deaths, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

There are several congressional investigations that will be undertaken or are underway, including a review by the House Administration Committee in consultation with House and Senate leadership; a joint investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Rules and Administration committees; separate investigations by Appropriations panels in both chambers; a Government Accountability Office probe; and possibly a commission styled after the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks.

In addition, retired Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honore is leading a review of Capitol complex security, the Capitol Police Inspector General is investigating the riot and the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating at least 17 officers.

Although she said the force prepared to meet the challenges presented by the security threat on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police, according to Pittman, “did not do enough.”

The department changed its operational plan, required all available workers to be on duty, increased Civil Disturbance Units, activated its SWAT team and adapted a new security perimeter, based on instructions from the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.

The more than 1,200 sworn Capitol Police officers who were working on Jan. 6 were outnumbered by “the tens of thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) attacking the Capitol and refusing to comply with lawful orders,” Pittman said. There were 1,879 sworn Capitol Police officers on the force as of September 2020.

When it was apparent that the violent mob was getting too close to the Capitol, Pittman said she ordered a lockdown of the Capitol, meaning every entrance should have been closed. The lockdown policy “may not have been consistently followed,” Pittman said.

“Clearly that policy wasn’t being followed because we had, when the Capitol is supposed to be on lockdown, we still had people flowing in and out,” Ryan said, noting the matter needs to be reviewed.

Pittman also acknowledged that officers said they had difficulty hearing the radios during the attack and that members said they found it hard to hear Capitol Police communications over the PA system.

Before ascending to chief, Pittman was an assistant chief alongside Assistant Chief Chad Thomas. Capitol Police Union Leader Gus Papathanasiou has called for Pittman and Thomas to resign, a proposal that Ryan previously said he supports.