WASHINGTON — A top Army leader defended the Pentagon's response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, telling a House panel Tuesday that the National Guard was delayed for hours because it had to properly prepare for the deployment and that senior military leaders had determined beforehand that the military had "no role" in determining the outcome of an election.
Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of the Army staff, echoed comments from other senior military leaders about the perception of soldiers being used to secure the election process. He said the Pentagon wanted to be careful about their response in part because of concerns about military helicopters that had flown low over Washington streets during protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in the summer of 2020.
It also took several hours for Guardsmen to be equipped and given a plan for how to secure the Capitol, Piatt said. The building was overrun by hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump who sought to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.
"When people's lives are on the line, two minutes is too long," he said. "But we were not positioned to respond to that urgent request. We had to re-prepare so we would send them in prepared for this new mission."
Piatt's testimony comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will step up its investigations into the deadly riots, in which a violent mob overran police, broke into the building and hunted for lawmakers. She said Tuesday that the House "can't wait any longer" to conduct a comprehensive investigation after Senate Republicans blocked legislation to create an independent commission.
"Whether we have a commission today, tomorrow or the next day over in the Senate, or not, the work of the committees will be very important in what we're seeking for the American people — the truth," Pelosi said.
One option under consideration is a select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, a setup that would put majority Democrats in charge. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans wanted to avoid a partisan probe and supported the legislation to create an independent, bipartisan commission outside Congress.
But those numbers weren't strong enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 1O Republicans is needed to pass most bills. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there's no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.
"We can't wait any longer," Pelosi said. "We will proceed."
Meanwhile, most Republicans are making clear that they want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack, brushing aside the many unanswered questions about the insurrection, including how the government and law enforcement missed intelligence leading up to the rioting and the role of Trump before and during the attack.
The hazards of investigating the attack in the sharply divided Congress were on full display during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, which was called to examine "unexplained delays and unanswered questions" about the siege.
Several Republicans tried to divert the subject, using their questioning to talk about coronavirus restrictions, the border and Biden's son Hunter, while others played down the severity of the violence.
Some of the Republicans appeared to defend the rioters, including Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman, who grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray on whether some of those who broke into the Capitol were innocent. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar repeated his arguments that a Trump supporter who was shot and killed while breaking into the House chamber, Ashli Babbitt, was "executed."
Democrats shot back that Republicans were trying to obscure the truth.
"This has got to do with the attempts by people to overthrow the government of the United States of America, something that hasn't happened in well over 100 years," said Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume. "And it's not something that we can slough off."
The three witnesses at the hearing — Wray, Piatt, and Gen. Charles E. Flynn, who was previously Army deputy chief of staff — were involved that day as the Capitol Police begged for backup. The National Guard did not arrive for several hours as police were overwhelmed and brutally beaten by the rioters.
Piatt insisted that he did not deny or have the authority to deny Guard help during a call with then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has previously said he believed Piatt and other Army leaders were concerned about the optics of soldiers surrounding the building. According to the Defense Department, military leadership approved activation of the full D.C. National Guard at 3:04 p.m., about 40 minutes after the call with Sund.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the committee, criticized Wray for not providing documents her staff had requested and asked him if he believed the FBI should be blamed for the law enforcement failures on Jan. 6.
"Our goal is to bat 1.000, and any time there's an attack, much less an attack as horrific and spectacular as what happened on Jan. 6, we consider that to be unacceptable," Wray replied.
As the committee examined the insurrection, the House held a vote to give congressional medals of honor to Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police to thank them for their service that day. Dozens of those officers suffered injuries, including chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones. Some may never return to work.
Twenty-one Republicans voted against giving the medals to the officers.
Seven people total died during and after the rioting, including Babbitt, three other Trump supporters who died of medical emergencies and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.