J Michael Waller / Center for Security Policy / February 16, 2021 – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finds herself in a tight spot as more lawmakers question why she has not information about her apparent refusal to permit requested security to defend the US Capitol on January 6.
Those questions parallel observations that the Center for Security Policy raised the night of January 6, and in an article published the following week.
The ranking minority members of the Committee on House Administration, Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, and Intelligence effectively accused Pelosi of a coverup of the decisionmaking chain up through January 6, and of “fraudulently” whipping up false security concerns after the fact.
The four senior lawmakers wrote Pelosi to demand answers to key questions “regarding the security of the Capitol on January 6th.” In their February 15 letter, they asked:
- “When then-[US Capitol Police] Chief [Steven] Sund made a request for national guard support on January 4th, why was that request denied?”
- “Did [House] Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving get permission or instruction from your staff on January 4th prior to denying Chief Fund’s request for the national guard?”
- “What conversations and what guidance did you and your staff give the Sergeant at Arms leading up to January 6th specific to the security posture of the [Capitol] campus?”
- “What conversations did you have during the attack on the Capitol and what response did you give security officials on January 6th when Chief Sund requested National Guard support that required your approval?”
- “Why are your House Officers refusing to comply with preservation and production requests to turn over request[ed] materials relevant to the events of January 6th?”
Pelosi has kept lawmakers in the dark in the five weeks since the attack on the Capitol, the congressmen said.
“As you are aware, the Speaker of the House is not only the leader of the majority party, but also has enormous institutional responsibilities,” they said. “The Speaker is responsible for all operational decisions made within the House. We have observed for two years this very heavy-handed and tightly controlled approach to House operations that has been exerted by yourself, your staff, and an army of appointed House officials,” the wrote.
In other words, Pelosi has tightened control over all House administrative matters that the buck stops with her. The US Capitol Police answer not to the executive branch, but to the House and Senate.
The four lawmakers – Reps. Rodney Davis, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Devin Nunes – are the top Republicans on the committees responsible for House administration, judicial and federal law enforcement, oversight of federal agencies, and intelligence.
No ‘full bipartisan and bicameral review’
Over five weeks, Pelosi maintained iron control of any investigation or lack thereof, rebuffing calls from members of both parties for a full and transparent investigation.
“In the wake of the attack, there were many calls from members [of Congress], on both sides of the aisle, to conduct a full bipartisan and bicameral review,” the lawmakers wrote Pelosi.
“Instead of working together, you yielded unilaterally to fire then-Sergeant at Arms (SAA) Paul Irving, demand the resignation of then-Chief of the Capitol Police (Chief) Steve Sund, and appointed retired General Russel Honoré to lead a security review,” they said. “These decisions were made in a partisan manner without any consultation of House Republicans and therefore raise questions about the political motivations of your decisions.”
Capitol Police Chief Sund was denied – National Guard backup
The Capitol Police asked for backup before January 6 but was denied, the congressmen told Pelosi.
“It has been widely reported and confirmed by multiple sources that when Chief Sund requested the National Guard to be activated ahead of the January 6th Joint Session of Congress, the response from the SAA, acting on your behalf, was that the ‘optics’ of having the National Guard on-site were not good and the intelligence didn’t support the move. The request was not approved,” the four lawmakers said.
“Furthermore, on January 6, in the middle of the on-going attack of the Capitol, Chief Sund again notified the SAA of his request for the approval to authorize the National Guard. It took over an hour for his request to be approved because the SAA had to run the request up the chain of command, which undoubtedly included you and your designees,” they wrote.
The next day, Pelosi called for Sund to resign.
Pelosi and DC Mayor had been communicating on DC statehood
Pushing for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state – and creating two new and reliable US Senate seats – has been a top priority for Pelosi and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
On January 2, three days before Bowser told the Trump administration not to send federal backup in case the scheduled pro-Trump protests got out of hand, Pelosi and the House leadership broke precedent and granted the DC mayor “floor privileges” to be on the House floor while in session.
On January 4, Pelosi tweeted about the “sacred right to vote” and pushed DC delegete to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton’s “reintroduction of her #DCStatehood legislation,” which Pelosi deemed “critical.” Bowser retweeted it: “Together we will achieve DC statehood, and when we do, we will look back and remember all who stood with us on the right side of history.”
The next day, Bowser tweeted that she did not want any further federal backup. She tweeted at 1:53 PM on January 5, “To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD [Metropolitian Police Department] if such plans are underway.”
Bowser attached a copy of a letter she sent to top Trump officials in the Justice Department and Pentagon, directly addressing the pro-Trump protests, whose organizers had applied for, and received, DC government permits to march.
She sent a copy of the letter to DC delegate Norton.
“As the law enforcement agency charged with protecting residents and visitors throughout the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is prepared for this week’s First Amendment activities,” Bowser said in the letter.
“MPD has coordinated with its federal partners, namely the US Park Police, US Capitol Police, and the US Secret Service – all of whom regularly have uniformed personnel protecting federal assets in the District of Columbia. This week, MPD has additional logistical support of unarmed members of the DC National Guard, which will work under the direction of, and in coordination with, MPD,” the mayor said.
Note that Bowser said that the National Guard were to be “unarmed.” Only the Capitol Police have jurisdiction over US Capitol grounds.
“The District of Columbia Government has not requested personnel from any other federal law enforcement agencies,” Bowser told the Trump administration.
“To avoid confusion, we ask that any request for additional assistance be coordinated using the same process and procedures,” she said. Bowser added that confusion about armed personnel “could become a national security threat.”
The DC mayor drove her point home again, telling the Trump officials to back off: “To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD if such plans are underway.”
“The protection of persons and property is our utmost concern and responsibility,” Bowser said.
Pelosi ‘fabricated internal security concerns’
Pelosi “fabricated” concerns about internal security in Congress, the four Republican lawmakers said in their February 15 letter.
“Lastly, your hyperbolic focus on fabricated internal security concerns has taken critical resources away from the real threat, which is from outside the US Capitol,” they wrote.
This charge of falsifying a threat level has serious ramifications down the road. For weeks, the Capitol complex was ringed with metal fence, razor wire, troops, and police tactical units, but Pelosi developed a narrative that the threat came from within Congress.
“Your decision to install magnetometers around the House Chamber is yet another example of this misdirection and misappropriation of House resources, which could be better used to protect members [of Congress], staff, and official visitors from real, confirmed threats,” they wrote. “Tellingly Madam Speaker, you have failed to comply with this requirement yourself.”
Pelosi cobbles letter calling for 9/11-style commission
Within hours of the letter from Congressmen Davis, Jordan, Comer, and Nunez, Pelosi sent out a letter to Democrat colleagues that she wants legislation to create a 9/11 Commission-style investigative panel to probe the January 6 events – this after Republicans, as well as Center for Security Policy officials, had called for something the same or similar.
Center observed the problem on January 6
All of this brings us back to what the Center observed on-site during the January 6 events that culminated in the violent incident at the Capitol.
As an eyewitness, this writer made the following observations on January 6 and 7 about how the DC Police and National Guard presence along the pro-Trump protest march was light and relaxed, and how the US Capitol Police were unusually weakly deployed and showed problems with preparation and leadership about what to do. Emphasis is added:
- “Anti-riot [US Capitol] police prepared early, but presence was light.”
- “For such a massive event, police presence was light. District of Columbia police and a small group of DC National Guard [on Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue NW] had a relaxed demeanor, keeping a professional distance from marchers and other pedestrians, as they usually do. A few police and National Guard gathered around a mobile device to listen to the president make what sounded like rousing statements.”
- “The DC Metropolitan police were their usual professionally detached selves, standing on curbs or at street crossings and exchanging an occasional greeting from marchers, but treating the event as routine and at the lowest threat level.”
- “When we crossed First Street NW to enter the Capitol grounds where the Capitol Police had jurisdiction, I noticed no police at all. Several marchers expressed surprise.” (We did not know at the time that the unusually small handful of Capitol Police manning a barricade had been chased away.)
- “… appearance of low threat level made no sense. American flags flew over the Senate and House chambers, indicating that each house of Congress was in session. Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to be there to certify the electoral votes. For better or worse, this was a historic day in Congress. Yet no Capitol Police appeared anywhere from what we could see, and I commented to my companion that it was very strange for there to be no police during a joint session of Congress, with or without a gigantic crowd.”
- At the West Front of the Capitol itself before the violence began, “No police could be seen on the [inaugural] platform for now. No police could be seen anywhere.”
- “The US Capitol Police recruit a special kind of professional. They are worn to defend one of the most important building complexes in the country, the US Capitol and its sprawling congressional office buildings…. Normally, the Capitol Police are excellent at communicating with crowds. Not today.”
- “A contingent of perhaps 30-50 Capitol Police emerged at the top of the inaugural platform…. It was after 1:17 p.m…. They were armed with paintball-type long guns that fired capsules of pepper irritant, teargas launchers, and long guns that I could not identify from my position. Something was happening on the plaza level below, but we couldn’t see.”
- “I quietly wondered why so few police were present for a crowd this or any size.”
- Once the violence began against the police and the tear gas and flash grenades went off, the demeanor changed. “I had seen anti-riot police in action before. They moved with a decisive sense of purpose. Now, the Capitol Police crew seemed confused, as if without a leader or perhaps inadequate rules of engagement. These professionals seemed directionless.” (Emphasis added)
- “Some [Capitol Police] clambered up and down the inaugural platform steps. Others milled back and forth at the [presidential] swearing-in level. Most of the police ended up leaving the surreal scene. Nobody could tell why.”
- “No bullhorn or sound system could be heard for the police to communicate with the swelling mass of people.”
- “The tear gas changed the crowd’s demeanor. There was an air of disbelief as people realized that the police whom they supported were firing on them…. All of a sudden, the pro-police people felt the police were attacking them, and they didn’t know why.”
- “… the lack of perimeter police presence, and the confused actions of those firing tear gas, flash grenades, and pepper balls from the presidential swearing-in platform had me thinking that something was wrong at the command level.” (Emphasis added)
- “What if someone did break into the Capitol? Not possible. From out there on the lawn, a breakdown in police command and control was unthinkable.”
Few realized it at the time, but individuals “appeared to be part of an organized cell of agents-provocateurs to corral people as an unwitting follow-on force behind the plainclothes militants tussling with police – but who, we would later learn, were actually breaking into the Capitol beneath the Great Rotunda to storm Congress.”
“These apparent agents-provocateurs placed hundreds of unsuspecting supporters of the president in physical danger. They attempted to block exits for people seeking to escape tear gas. They endangered vulnerable people, including children, the frail, and the elderly.
“They funneled and pushed hundreds if not thousands of innocent people into a crush toward the Capitol. They did so with the goal of forcing the people into a confrontation with federal police defending Congress. Nobody [at the time] seemed aware that the Capitol was physically under attack.”