Leahy presses former Capitol security officials on ‘failure’ in Jan. 6 attack

Crowd with Trump flags
Pro-Trump rioters broke through barricades and clashed with police in an unprecedented and violent disruption of the U.S. Congress on Jan. 6. Photo (c) 2021 by Mukul Ranjan

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., expressed frustration Tuesday with law enforcement’s scrambled response to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. 

At a joint hearing by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and the Senate Rules Committee — on which Leahy serves — the senator pressed former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and Paul D. Irving and Michael C. Stenger, the former House and Senate sergeants at arms, respectively, for “a failure” to deploy enough resources to quell the mob. 

“I really wonder why we didn't take this seriously enough to be prepared for this, and the hours it took to bring in the National Guard and everything else,” Leahy said. 

Confusion over the police response continued Tuesday, as Sund and Irving gave different accounts of when the National Guard support was called in to help.

Sund stated that he asked to call in the National Guard in a 1:09 p.m. phone call with Irving, but Irving stated he had no recollection of a phone call at that time. Irving eventually approved Guard support at 2:10 p.m., but by that time the mob had already broken through a police barricade at the base of the Capitol’s steps. 

The officials defended their preparation and response on the basis of available intelligence on the day of the attack and largely shifted responsibility to other federal law enforcement agencies. 

Irving said the daily Capitol Police intelligence reports leading up to Jan. 6 termed the likelihood of civil disobedience or violence as “remote to improbable,” and Sund said officials expected demonstrations that mirrored previous MAGA rallies for then-President Trump.  

“We had planned for the possibility of violence, and the possibility of some people being armed, not the possibility of a coordinated, military-style attack involving thousands against the Capitol,” Sund said. 

“Violence and arms strike me as a pretty strong thing,” Leahy countered. 

Sund resigned the day after the attack, and Irving and Stenger followed shortly after. 

Leahy acknowledged Robert J. Contee III, chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, for his response to the attacks and maintaining the “delicate balance” between the district’s forces and federal law enforcement agencies. 

Leahy also noted that the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, has supported each agency's requests for salaries and operating expenses in recent years, implying they should have had the manpower and equipment to protect the Capitol.

“We’re going to look very closely at the (budget) request this year, and say, ‘What will we do if we have another one of these things?’” Leahy said. 

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