House GOP drills down on Jan. 6 security failures | Courthouse News Service
Friday, December 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

House GOP drills down on Jan. 6 security failures

Grilling the former U.S. Capitol Police chief, Republicans framed the response to the Capitol riot as hampered by political machinations, while Democrats heaped blame on former President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON (CN) — House Republicans on Wednesday accused former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and two Capitol security officials of slow-walking requests to deploy the National Guard during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Since regaining control of the lower chamber at the beginning of the year, Republican lawmakers have sought to reframe the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, which Democrats have said — and a bipartisan congressional report has concluded — was incited by former President Donald Trump.

The GOP’s effort continued during a hearing Wednesday in the House Administration Committee, during which lawmakers sought to paint the police response to the insurrection as mired in politics.

The committee questioned former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who was in charge of the Capitol’s law enforcement during the insurrection and testified that the attack was “an intelligence failure” and that it could have been prevented if Capitol security staff and federal law enforcement agencies had acted with more urgency.

“If the intelligence had been accurately reported and the FBI and [Homeland Security Department] had followed their policies and established practices, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Sund told lawmakers.

The former police chief testified that minutes after the Jan. 6 attack began, he had he asked House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving to request approval to bring in the National Guard to quell the riot. Irving said he would “run it up the chain,” Sund said. It would take a little more than an hour to get that approval, he added, after which he began negotiating with the Pentagon which repeatedly refused to send aid. Guardsmen wouldn’t arrive at the Capitol until around 6 p.m. that day, Sund said, long after the worst of the insurrection had subsided.

“The fact that an experienced law enforcement official was constrained by federal law from bringing in lifesaving resources for his officers is unfathomable,” Sund said. “This type of politicized control and oversight was and is continues to be detrimental to the mission.”

Sund resigned from his position as head of the Capitol Police a day after the insurrection, after then-Speaker Pelosi called on him to vacate his position during a press conference.

During questioning, committee Republicans dialed in on Sund’s interaction with Irving, arguing that the top Capitol security official and the Capitol Police board had consulted with the House speaker before approving the police chief’s request to call the National Guard.

“What happened on Jan. 6 was unforgiveable,” North Carolina Congressman Greg Murphy told Sund, “but the conditions that were set forth by the former speaker, the current administration and the sergeant at arms … absolutely allowed you to fail and put members of Congress at risk of being injured.”

New York Republican Anthony D’Esposito chalked the delay up to “individuals that had zero experience in law enforcement … influencing you on the decisions you had to make.”

“You weren’t able to make decisions as a law enforcement professional,” the congressman told Sund. “Your decisions were based on political interference.”

Committee Democrats, meanwhile, argued that their colleagues’ line of questioning merely served partisan ends.

“You don’t blame the rioters or the president [Trump], you blame the Capitol Police and the Capitol Police board,” said New York Congressman Joe Morelle. “It’s like blaming the homeowner when you’ve been robbed rather than blaming the intruder.”

Morelle pointed out Irving and the late Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger had both been appointed by Republican lawmakers. The third member of the Capitol Police board — former Architect of the Capitol James Blanton — was appointed by President Trump, Morelle said.

“To inject partisanship here is very troubling,” the New York Democrat said, “but if we’re going to do that, we should at least know the obvious: that each of the members of the three-person board were appointed by Republicans, not by Democrats.”

Morelle also argued that the committee’s focus should be less on the delay Sund experienced in his effort to get National Guard approval from Irving and more on the three hours of hangtime before Guardsmen arrived at the Capitol.

California Democrat Norma Torres, sought to bring the discussion back around to former President Trump, who she said bears final responsibility for the Jan. 6 riots.

“The American democratic experiment came dangerously close to ending,” she said, “if not for the courageous actions of the Capitol and D.C. police, and the person responsible for directing the violence at the Capitol that day in order to undermine the peaceful transfer of power is the favorite to secure the Republican nomination for president.”

Wednesday’s hearing came just weeks after the House’s administration committee began allowing members of the media and defendants facing charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection to view closed-circuit security footage captured during the riot.

The panel's chairman, Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk, said this month that the move was part of the GOP’s promise “to bring transparency and accountability to the People’s House.” Democrats have previously chafed at efforts to share such footage with the public, suggesting that it could pose a security risk and incite another riot.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.