Military Leaders Say 'Tremendous Confusion' Delayed Response to Capitol Siege

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Supporters of President Donald Trump march on Pennsylvania Avenue
Supporters of President Donald Trump march on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Top defense leaders are pushing back against criticism that they were ill-prepared for Wednesday's massive security lapse at the U.S. Capitol, in which a mob was able to swarm past federal law enforcement personnel and enter the building, leaving the vice president and members of Congress in danger.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy defended the decision to stage a few hundred National Guard members around the city leading up to the breach, citing unclear information about how many protesters would be in Washington, D.C., this week. Intelligence on crowd size, McCarthy said in a Thursday call with reporters, "was all over the board."

"The problem was the range," he said, adding that estimates put the size of the protests anywhere from 2,000 to 80,000 people.

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Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense, stressed that the Defense Department does not conduct domestic intelligence.

"We are totally reliant on federal, state and local law enforcement," he said. "When we are getting requests for assistance, we are not conducting our own assessments of what different groups in the United States might be doing."

As late as Monday or Tuesday, the Defense Department was informed by local leaders that additional military support was not needed, said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

President Donald Trump told his supporters to come to the nation's capital on the day lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence would be voting to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory. "Will be wild!" he tweeted.

Trump has disputed Biden's win, alleging -- without proof -- that the election was stolen from him. The president addressed his supporters on Wednesday, urging them to march to the Capitol. Once there, they broke down barriers and grappled with federal police to storm the building -- something McCarthy said earlier on Thursday that no one had anticipated in their "wildest imagination."

Lawmakers and reporters sheltered in place as Trump supporters walked through congressional buildings, destroying offices, breaking windows and posing with statues. Members of Congress were forced to don protective equipment after Capitol police deployed tear gas to disperse the mob.

During the time Trump's supporters were in the building, McCarthy said there was "tremendous confusion coming out of the Capitol." He and other federal officials put together a hasty plan to reestablish a security perimeter around the Capitol's front doors, he said, and they then sent tactical teams inside to clear the chambers and leadership offices.

"[We] moved very quickly to clear the Capitol and get the Congress back in there by 8 p.m. so they could certify the election," McCarthy said.

Questions arose Wednesday about the lack of a response from the National Guard. Juxtaposed with the high troop presence during last summer's Black Lives Matter protests, it appeared light. During the earlier protests, the Guard was accused of flying helicopters dangerously low over protesters and top military leaders were photographed walking through an area by the White House that had been forcibly cleared.

When asked if Wednesday's response was kept intentionally small due to the backlash the military faced last summer, McCarthy said the response to those protests -- which erupted after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody -- happened over several days.

"Yesterday was a very short fuse," he said. "... To be able to marshal enough National Guardsmen takes hours -- several hours, if not maybe even a day or two."

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller has now authorized the mobilization of up to 6,200 National Guardsmen from Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They will be in Washington for at least 30 days, McCarthy said, and officials are now assessing the appropriate presence for Inauguration Day.

There are currently more than 740 Guard members on Capitol grounds now. Some are setting up a new fence that is expected to help secure the building through Biden's inauguration.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: The National Guard Is Fencing Off the US Capitol Complex for at Least 30 Days

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