The fact that an armed mob of people angry over President Trump’s loss was able to maraud through the U.S. Capitol while the entire Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were inside is “such an embarrassingly bad failure” of law enforcement, former U.S. counterterrorism official R.P. Eddy tells The New York Times. “But it could have been so much worse.” Five people died, but every lawmaker made it out unharmed, including the top three people in the presidential line of succession.
Outgoing Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund started getting nervous about the size of the pro-Trump crowd converging on Washington on Monday, he told The Washington Post on Sunday, but the House and Senate sergeants at arms turned down his request to ask the D.C. National Guard to be on standby during Wednesday’s ceremonial Electoral College count. He pleaded for help five more times on Wednesday, he said. Sund and both sergeants at arms have resigned.
The first contingent of protesters arrived at the Capitol at 12:40 p.m., and Sund said he knew things were bad very quickly. “Violent confrontations from the start. They came with riot helmets, gas masks, shields, pepper spray, fireworks, climbing gear — climbing gear! — explosives, metal pipes, baseball bats.” The mob breached the Capitol just before 2 p.m. At 2:26 p.m., Sund joined a conference call to the Pentagon.
“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund recalled saying. Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army Staff said he could not recommend the deployment, telling Sund and the others on the call that he didn’t “like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Sund and others said. A livid D.C. Police Metropolitan Chief Robert Contee demanded three times, “Are you denying the request?” the Times reports, and Piatt said no, but he needed approval from up the chain of command.
According to a timeline from the Pentagon, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy verbally approved the request at 3:04 p.m. “Despite Sund’s pleas, the first National Guard personnel didn’t arrive at the Capitol until 5:40 p.m. — after four people had died and the worst was long over,” the Post reports. Piatt defended his caution, telling the Times, “The last thing you want to do is throw forces at it where you have no idea where they’re going, and all of a sudden it gets a lot worse.”