Ex-House security head: Intel said no need for troops before riot

FBI says it warned law enforcement of threat of the Capitol riot, planned in part on publicly available social media.

Then-Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving walks with members of US Capitol Police as they begin to secure and clean up the House chamber after rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Former US House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving denied on Tuesday authorities had rejected having the National Guard deployed at the US Capitol on January 6 because it might look bad, saying the intelligence did not warrant the troops’ presence.

Irving made his comments in testimony prepared for two Senate committees investigating the security preparations and response to the attack on the Capitol by a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump, who had for months touted unfounded claims he lost the November elections due to voter fraud.

Trump was impeached and acquitted for his role in “inciting” the riot.

Irving said that on January 4, he had discussed the possible use of National Guard troops with then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger.

“’Optics’ as portrayed in the media did not determine our security posture … We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgement at that time was no – the intelligence did not warrant that,” Irving said.

Irving’s testimony appeared to be in direct conflict with Sund’s account. Sund said he had requested National Guard troops but that Irving “stated he was concerned about the ‘optics’ of having National Guard present”.

Sund, Irving and Stenger all resigned following the January 6 violence that left five people dead, including one Capitol police officer.

Scores of police were assaulted in the melee, with more than 140 Capitol Police and some 65 metropolitan police injured.

More than 200 people have been charged so far for their roles in the riot, including some with ties to far-right fringe groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

Numerous current and former law enforcement and military members have also been charged over the riot.

The Capitol occupation has caused a national reckoning with the strength of the far-right movement, which observers say was invigorated by Trump’s presidency.

Intelligence questions

Also appearing on Tuesday at the hearing is Robert Contee, the acting police chief in Washington, DC. His forces helped the Capitol Police control the mob and eventually clear the Capitol so that lawmakers could return to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory.

A man with a selfie stick and a police riot shield at the US Capitol. “Maybe I’ll go sledding with it,” he said. [William Roberts/Al Jazeera]

Senators in the Homeland Security Committee and the Committee on Rules and Administration want to find out where the breakdowns in planning and response occurred that allowed the violence to unfold in and around the citadel of American democracy, endangering the lives of, among others, Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence.

In media interviews, Sund has blamed the former House and Senate sergeants at arms for not greenlighting his request for back-up from the National Guard ahead of January 6.

Once the rioting started, it took hours to get permission for the troops, which ultimately had to come from the Pentagon, Sund said.

Sund also says intelligence agencies did not pass on anything ahead of time indicating an orchestrated attack on the Capitol might happen.

The Washington Post has reported that the Capitol Police’s own intelligence unit warned on January 3 that “Congress itself” could be the target of Trump supporters summoned by the then-president to fight his loss in the November election.

The FBI also says it warned law enforcement agencies on January 5 that extremists were preparing to commit violence, although the warning was based largely on unconfirmed intelligence such as social media postings.

Some Department of Homeland Security officials were also concerned by social media postings, but an official familiar with intelligence reporting said Trump appointees at the department blocked efforts to circulate that intelligence widely around the government, according to Reuters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies