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Congressional Panels Examine Military's Role In Insurrection, New Security Funding

Members of the D.C. National Guard outside of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, after Trump supporters stormed the building.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
AFP via Getty Images
Members of the D.C. National Guard outside of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, after Trump supporters stormed the building.

As a House panel is set to meet on new spending to ramp up Capitol security, military and federal officials will testify in a Senate hearing that is part of several congressional probes into what fueled the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

Today, a House appropriations subcommittee will hear from acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman to consider new spending measures. At the same time, the Senate Homeland and Rules committees will question D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker and other federal officials.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Rules Committee, says one key focus is why it took the military several hours to show up as Capitol Police were overrun with rioters.

"Every minute counts — every minute counts when you have an insurrection going on," said Klobuchar, D-Minn. "So what happened there, I think that's going to be a major part of this."

Wednesday's testimony marks the second of a series of joint hearings that could continue for the next couple of months as the committees look further into the attack. The leaders of the Rules and Homeland Security joined forces on a bipartisan basis to pursue one of several, ongoing congressional insurrection probes.

By week's end, Congress will have hosted about a half dozen hearings so far on the Capitol raid.

Today, senators see Walker as a major figure in the repeated Capitol Police requests for military backup on the day of the siege. The committees will also hear from officials for the intelligence units for Homeland Security and the FBI, as well as a Defense Department official.

Last week, several former and current Capitol security officials pointed to an intelligence failure as leaving law enforcement blindsided. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency, saying the bureau shared raw intelligence from a Norfolk, Va., field office with Capitol Police and others that predicting violence ahead of Jan. 6.

"How did they get it so wrong? How did they misjudge the likelihood of violence?" a congressional aide said of the questions that will be a focus in today's hearing. "This attack needs to serve as an inflection point for our national security apparatus to be able to address domestic terrorism."

Last week, the same Senate panels heard from the Capitol's three former top security officials, including former U.S. Capital Police Chief Steven Sund, and the current head of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Robert Contee.

Contee told lawmakers last week he was "stunned" it took the military so long to show up.

"What took the Defense Department so long to deploy the National Guard and why was that initial response delayed to the point where Acting Chief Contee told us he was 'stunned?'" Klobuchar said.

Defense officials, including Army Gen Mark Milley, have defended the National Guard's response saying they went from a "cold start" to having troops at the Capitol in about three hours. Milley called it "sprint speed" for the Pentagon.

Also in last week's testimony, Sund reiterated his account that "optics"prevented him from getting military support preemptively before Jan. 6, and then he faced that hourslong delay to get military backup that day.

During a separate House hearing, Pittman told an appropriations subpanel that oversees Capitol Police that her agency obtained Sund's phone records showing he requested military backup that day six times in the first hour of the breach.

In a contradiction, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving told senators last week he did not get an early call from Sund seeking aid. Ultimately, Irving did not move forward with the request until around 2 p.m. that day.

This, as Sund has also testified he talked to Walker ahead of Jan. 6 and was told assistance would arrive "fairly quickly" if needed. Sund said they spoke again that day shortly before 2 p.m. in hopes of getting that fast response.

Then, Sund said he faced a new series of hurdles when he was told the Pentagon would need to approve his request, leading to the new delays.

Questions surrounding this, and other details from the day will also be addressed, Klobuchar said.

"I want more answers and I think you're going to hear more answers," Klobuchar said. "I think all of that will be putting more pieces in the puzzle so we can make sure this never happens again."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.