House Appropriations Committee/Screenshot by NPR
Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, testifying remotely through a video link, told a House committee that her agency head had requested military backup about a half-dozen times in the first hour after the Capitol complex was breached on Jan. 6, the day of the insurrection.
Pittman based her assessment on phone records her agency obtained for then-Chief Steven Sund showing he reached out to the Capitol’s top security officials starting shortly before 1 p.m. in the first of six calls requesting the National Guard to respond.
“Chief Sund spoke to both sergeants-at-arms to request National Guard support,” Pittman told a House panel on Thursday in her first testimony in a public congressional hearing on the siege.
Pittman’s and Sund’s accounts now directly contradict one by the top House security chief at the time, Paul Irving, who told a Senate panel this week that he didn’t get an early call for military aid.
Instead, Irving said Sund did not make the request for the National Guard until around 2 p.m. that day. And the military backup did not ultimately arrive until hours later, which is a key piece of evidence taking center stage in the early days of congressional probes into the insurrection.
“It was an epic failure in leadership,” Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who chairs the House Appropriations subpanel on legislative branch affairs that oversees the Capitol Police, told reporters following the hearing. “We’re going to have to address that.”
Jan. 6 saw an estimated 10,000 or more rally attendants at the Ellipse make their way to the Capitol, with about 800 of them breaching the complex, said Pittman, who was testifying alongside acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett before a House Appropriations subpanel.
Pittman said the phone records obtained reflect that Sund first reached out to Irving to request the National Guard at 12:58 p.m. on the day of the attack. She said Sund then called the Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael Stenger, at 1:05 p.m.
She said Sund repeated his request in a call at 1:28 p.m. and then again at 1:34 p.m., 1:39 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. that day.
The new details follow the first congressional oversight hearing, on Tuesday, for the insurrection, with Sund, Irving and Stenger, who all testified before two Senate committees alongside acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee. Sund, Irving and Stenger were at the helm the day of the siege and resigned soon after under pressure from congressional leaders.
Sund testified that he had contacted both sergeants-at-arms by 1:09 p.m. that day or by the first indications the Capitol was breached. He said he did not have clearance by 1:50 p.m. from the Capitol Police Board, which is composed of the police chief, both sergeants-at-arms and a member of the Architect of the Capitol. Sund said he finally got that approval at 2:10 p.m. but then learned the request would also need additional clearance from the Defense Department.
However, the three former top Capitol security officials did agree on Tuesday on some elements, including that incomplete intelligence played a large role in the security failures that allowed the riot.
In Thursday’s House hearing, Pittman and Blodgett also mirrored that theme. Pittman noted that despite an FBI report ahead of the siege signaling potential violence targeting the Capitol on Jan. 6, the same report said the rally could produce activity seen at previous post-election Make America Great Again rallies in Washington, D.C., that did not result in a coordinated attack.
Blodgett called the intelligence “problematic.”
“There were indications that intelligence was muddled or contradictory,” he told the House committee.
Pittman said even if she and other leaders had seen that FBI report, which former and current top Capitol security officials say didn’t reach them in time, it likely would not have changed the posture of the Capitol Police. She also noted that the Secret Service decided with the same available intelligence that then-Vice President Mike Pence could still attend the Jan. 6 joint session to certify the electoral votes.
Pittman also drew a grilling from the panel of House lawmakers, who expressed frustration with her and other Capitol Police leaders and their role in the failures during the riot. They also highlighted the no-confidence vote issued by the police union for Pittman and others for letting the agency and others down.
House Appropriations Committee
Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the House Appropriations subpanel’s top Republican, said that on the day of the insurrection she saw firsthand the breakdowns that left rank-and-file officers in the lurch.
“They were getting no actual real communication. They were getting no leadership. They were getting no direction. There was no coordination,” she said. “And you could see the fear in their eye. They literally — the brave men and women who were kind of left out on their own to defend — did the best they could with what they had.”
Pittman also conceded that the agency had not done enough in terms of communicating with the officers on the day of the attack. And despite calls from the police union for her and other leaders to step down, she says she still stands by her officers.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she told the lawmakers.
Ryan told reporters following the hearing that many potential reforms are on the table. Among them, he said addressing the current structure of the Capitol Police Board could be one.
“I think there’s consensus about the relic called the Capitol Police Board,” Ryan said. “We got to figure out a new mechanism in which we can govern the security here.”
In an exchange with Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., about the fact that Pittman has not answered any questions from the press since the attack, the acting chief said her agency has issued news releases since the riot but could not commit to having regular press briefings. Instead, Pittman said her priorities are focused on internal operations.