Trump Defense Chief Stands by Response to Jan. 6 Riot
(Bloomberg) -- The former acting U.S. defense chief and former acting attorney general during Donald Trump’s last weeks in office defended their responses to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol under sharp questions from Democrats on intelligence failures and delays.
“The federal government was unprepared for this insurrection even though it was planned in plain sight on social media,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney said Wednesday at the panel’s hearing on the insurrection and the events leading up to it.
The New York Democrat said the federal government failed to coordinate a timely response, and complained it took hours for National Guard troops to show up. “Why did the Defense Department wait until after 5 o’clock - 5 p.m. - before sending the National Guard to the Capitol?”
Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said he was concerned that a pre-emptive deployment of military forces would stoke conspiracy theories about a military coup and that the Defense Department moved as quickly as possible. He suggested politics played a role in the criticism of the response.
“Those of you with military experience or who understand the nature of military deployments will recognize how rapid our response was,” Miller, who spent more than two decades in the Army Special Forces, said, adding that it took time to prepare the troops and plan ahead of their 5:22 p.m. arrival at the Capitol.
“I stand by every decision I made on January 6th,” he said.
Miller said he did not speak to Trump that day and that he already had all the authority he needed from the president.
“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said. “When his supporters attacked the Capitol, the president was nowhere to be found, leaving it to others to scramble to respond.”
Miller said he briefly spoke to then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was at the Capitol when the mob of Trump supporters broke in, shortly after 4 p.m. But he said Pence is not in the chain of command, and that he had already ordered the National Guard to prepare to deploy.
Miller at times struggled to explain delays in communicating orders, however, including a 36-minute gap from his 4:32 p.m. approval of a deployment plan at the Capitol and the communication of that approval to Major General William Walker, head of the District of Columbia National Guard.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned Miller on the discrepancy in the timeline, and Miller attributed that delay perhaps to “fog and friction” during a frantic day.
Miller also told the panel that “irresponsible” speculation about a coup increased his concerns ahead of Jan. 6 “regarding the appropriate and limited use of the military in domestic matters.”
Miller said he didn’t believe it was in the best interests of citizens or armed forces personnel for the military to play a major role in organizing a domestic law enforcement response on the day Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election, which Trump falsely claimed had been stolen from him.
Miller was testifying at the hearing with former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the latest in a series of congressional inquiries into why law enforcement and intelligence officials didn’t anticipate violence from the mob of Trump supporters and the security failures that allowed it to overrun the Capitol.
Earlier hearings have cast a spotlight on the Pentagon response, including a March 3 Senate hearing in which Walker said it took more than three hours for senior military leaders to approve a request to send troops to the Capitol on Jan. 6, despite a “frantic” plea from the Capitol Police chief for immediate emergency assistance.
Rosen refused to answer Democrats’ questions about whether Trump had asked him to help overturn the election, including in a Jan. 3rd meeting. Rosen said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose his private conversations with the president.
In his prepared remarks, Rosen said he believes the Department of Justice had “reasonably prepared for the contingencies before Jan. 6, understanding that there was considerable uncertainty as to how many people would arrive, who those people would be, and precisely what purposes they would pursue.”
“Unlike the police, DOJ had no frontline role with respect to crowd control. The FBI, ATF, DEA, and U.S. attorneys’ offices, as investigative and prosecuting agencies, are generally not equipped for crowd control,” he said in the remarks.
Rosen also said that the Justice Department has tried to ensure that those responsible for the attack “would face the full consequences of their actions under the law.”
Republicans at the hearing accused Democrats of having politicized investigations into the riot.
Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the panel, said Democrats had rejected his proposal for a bipartisan commission that also would investigate unrelated riots in the summer of 2020 over police brutality.
GOP Representative Jody Hice of Georgia accused Democrats and media of creating a “false narrative” that Trump provoked the insurrection.
And Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia denied there was an insurrection on Jan. 6th, only a mob with some rioters who committed vandalism.
“There was no insurrection and to call it an insurrection in my opinion is a boldface lie,” he said. He said people walked in an orderly fashion between roped off stanchions at the Capitol taking videos and pictures.
“You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,” he said.
Miller, in his prepared remarks, said Trump’s remarks encouraged the crowd to head to the Capitol but he told the committee he did not think that it was the “unitary” reason for the riot.
Maloney also announced the FBI Director Christopher Wray has agreed to testify next month.
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