WATCH: Ousted Capitol Security Officials Testify On Insurrection | WAMC

WATCH: Ousted Capitol Security Officials Testify On Insurrection

Feb 23, 2021
Originally published on February 23, 2021 1:00 pm

Updated 12:59 p.m. ET

Former U.S. Capitol Security officials told Congress during a joint hearing on Tuesday they did not have sufficient information ahead of Jan. 6 to accurately predict the scale of the attack.

The hearing, aimed at examining the security failures that led to the Capitol complex's breach, included the testimony of former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger — all of whom resigned their posts after the Capitol siege, following requests from top leaders of both parties.

"The events I witnessed on Jan. 6 was the worst attack on law enforcement and our democracy that I've seen in my entire career," Sund said in his opening remarks.

"These criminals came prepared for war. They came with their own radio system to coordinate the attack, in climbing gear and other equipment to defeat the capital's security features. I'm sickened by what I witnessed that day," he said.

All three former Capitol security officials agreed that the Jan. 6 attack was planned and coordinated and that it involved white supremacists and extremist groups.

Watch the hearing live.

Pointing fingers at the intelligence community

An early theme that emerged in the testimonies Tuesday was an alleged lack of adequate intelligence.

Sund said the intelligence he based his planning on indicated that the protests expected on Jan. 6 were anticipated to be similar in nature to previous Make America Great Again rallies.

"A clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies contributed to this event, and not poor planning by the United States Capitol Police," he said. "We rely on accurate information from our federal partners to help us develop effective security plans."

Sund underscored: "None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred."

He added later in the hearing that he believes that the intelligence community needs to "broaden its aperture on what information it collects."

Irving echoed Sund's testimony about the early intelligence not matching what ended up taking place at the Capitol.

"Based on the intelligence, we all believed that the plan met the threat and that we were prepared," he said. "We now know that we had the wrong plan. As one of the senior security leaders responsible for that event, I am accountable for that. I accept that responsibility, and as you know, I have resigned my position."

On whether "optics" played a role

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund greets Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza before they testify in Tuesday's hearing.
Andrew Harnik/Pool / Getty Images

In prepared remarks, Sund said he approached Irving and Stenger on Jan. 4 to request the assistance of the National Guard.

"Mr. Irving stated that he was concerned about the 'optics' of having National Guard present and didn't feel that the intelligence supported it," Sund wrote, adding that he was then referred to Stenger and again made the request.

"Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr. Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed and to 'lean forward' in case we had to request assistance on January 6."

Irving pushed back on that narrative in his opening remarks.

"The use of the word 'optics' has been mischaracterized in the media. Let me be clear: Optics, as portrayed in the media, played no role whatsoever in my decisions about security and any suggestion to the contrary is false," he said.

Irving said the "collective judgement" was that intelligence did not require troop presence at the Capitol.

"If the chief or any other security leader had expressed doubt about our readiness, without the National Guard, I would not have hesitated to request them."

During the hearing, Sund and Irving disagreed over when the then-Capitol Police chief called Irving seeking backup from the National Guard as the attack was underway.

Sund said he made the call at 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6, but Irving maintained he didn't recall such a call. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, suggested looking at the phone records to sort out when the call was made.

"Everything lined up against them"

Bill Pickle, who served as the Senate sergeant-at-arms from 2003 to 2007, told NPR that the Capitol had security weaknesses that had long gone ignored by lawmakers.

Pickle, who remains in contact with both former Sergeants-at-Arms Irving and Stenger, said Irving was drawing from a long-running culture at the Capitol that frowned upon calls for a military response.

"Politicians, and particularly the leadership, is very, very reluctant to have any military presence on Capitol Hill," Pickle said. "That is a political issue that for whatever reason, the optics are not something that the leaders of Congress want."

Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee also testified Tuesday and tried to clarify the limited reach of the D.C. police.

He noted that officers cannot patrol or make arrests at the Capitol without the request of the Capitol Police force. Referencing controversy over requests for the presence of National Guard troops, Contee said the president of the United States, not the D.C. mayor, controls the guard's actions on federal property.

"We're going to have to make changes"

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, speaks during Tuesday's joint panel.
Andrew Harnik /Pool / Getty Images

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said the leaders of her panel and the Homeland Security Committee have joined forces on a bipartisan basis to pursue one of several insurrection probes.

Tuesday's testimony marks the beginning of their series of joint hearings, which could continue for the next couple of months, Klobuchar says. For example, the panels plan to next call leaders of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department to testify about the siege in the coming weeks.

"The answers we get to our questions at this hearing on Tuesday, as well as future hearings, will really dictate the solutions," said Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, ahead of the hearing. "And we can't wait to get those answers because decisions have to be made about the Capitol security, the backup with other agencies, how we work with the National Guard going forward, how we share information, the [U.S. Capitol] Police board."

Klobuchar says that information will dictate how to improve the Capitol's security picture going forward, adding that many "immediate decisions" need to be made with help from former and current leaders.

"We need to get this information immediately in the next month or two," she said. "We're going to have to make changes to security now."

"535 bosses"

Rioters clash with police outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images

When Pickle reached his last day on the job as the Senate sergeant-at-arms more than a decade ago, he issued a stark warning to congressional leaders. Pickle said the Capitol had security weaknesses that had long gone ignored by lawmakers and that this could allow an attack one day.

When Pickle issued that warning, he was thinking about the Sept. 11 attacks and other security emergencies that threatened wider destruction at the Capitol.

"I truly believe at some point in the future — and I don't know in what shape or form — we will be victimized again," Pickle told The Hill in 2007, referencing past attempts to target the Capitol on a smaller or less successful scale.

At the time, Pickle envisioned a possible airplane attack or chemical or biological attack. After Jan. 6, Pickle says the same security weaknesses he saw then are what helped the violent mob.

Among them, Pickle says, he's part of a long line of security officials who have pleaded with lawmakers for decades to allow a fencing perimeter. Last month, acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman reiterated that call.

"One of the things that they have not done — and it's been front and center for at least 40 years — is this idea of building a fence around the Capitol," Pickle said.

The longtime law enforcement official, who was a former assistant director for the Secret Service, said the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol remain top security threats. However, of those three, the Capitol remains the most unsecured.

"Political people on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrats, say, 'You know, this is the people's house. We're not going to be intimidated. We're going to keep it open,' " Pickle said. "That sounds good in a political speech. But here's the reality: Because they're so naive and so careless in their words, what they do is they enable bad people intent on creating mischief to do bad things."

In other words, law enforcement didn't stand a chance on Jan. 6 with only bicycle racks standing between them and the Capitol, he says. A fence could have deterred the approaching mobs and bought law enforcement time to hold crowds back and execute arrests.

Another issue, Pickle argues, is reporting to a security apparatus that reports to political leaders.

"So the police have a tough job. They have 535 bosses, and every one of those bosses thinks they know better than the law enforcement officials up there," he said.

Sund may also agree.

"I know a number of groups are investigating this incident. I think they'll find that it's a very convoluted, bureaucratic method of maintaining security in the nation's Capitol," Sund said last month.

But Klobuchar disagrees. She says a board that includes sergeants-at-arms overseeing the Capitol Police could be more of the problem.

"I don't think we're going to find that it's just one thing," Klobuchar said.

She added, "I just don't think that chain of command seemed to work well. And maybe we need some changes to it. But I just, I don't see it as the 535 bosses. If they're listening to a freshman congressman about their decisions of how to handle a riot as opposed to their own views on security, that's an issue."

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