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Capitol Security Leaders Gave Conflicting Stories And Pointed Blame Elsewhere For Failures During The Insurrection

The people in charge of securing the Capitol on Jan. 6 pointed blame elsewhere as senators pressed them Tuesday on how a violent mob got inside the building.

Posted on February 23, 2021, at 3:17 p.m. ET

Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

Former US Capitol Police chief Steven Sund

WASHINGTON — Former Capitol Hill security chiefs blamed the FBI, the Trump administration, and each other for the Jan. 6 riots at a Senate hearing Tuesday that raised more questions than answers about how a mob was able to breach the Capitol.

The three former heads of Capitol Hill security, who all resigned under pressure after the riots, said the attack was unpredictable and unforeseeable, despite Trump supporters openly planning the attack online in the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6.

The FBI sent an intelligence report to the Capitol Police the day before the attack warning of potential violence at the Capitol as members certified the Electoral College vote, but former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund said it never made it to his desk.

“How can that happen? How do you not get that vital intelligence in the eve of what’s going to be a major event?” asked Sen. Gary Peters.

Sund downplayed the FBI briefing, saying it contained “strictly raw data” such as social media posts. “Lots of people post things on social media that need to be corroborated and confirmed,” he said. He conceded that the process for sharing such information should be reviewed.

At the time, Trump supporters, egged on by the former president, were organizing in plain view on social media to storm the Capitol.

Sund, along with former Senate sergeant at arms Michael Stenger and former House sergeant at arms Paul Irving, told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that they were prepared for a march that day, but were not given intelligence that the crowd would try to storm the Capitol.

The three also gave dramatically different — and contradictory — versions of events.

Sund said that two days before the attack he requested that National Guard troops be stationed at the Capitol to enhance security. Sund said he made the request to Irving, who rejected it citing “optics.”

Irving strenuously denied this. He said Sund did not make any request for more troops, but rather relayed an offer from the DC National Guard to provide 125 unarmed troops to do traffic control on Jan. 6. He said that he, Sund, and Stenger discussed the offer and jointly decided that it was not necessary based on the intelligence at the time. “They both seem satisfied with that,” Irving said of the other two security heads.

Asked whether he refused to allow troops at the Capitol because of optics, Irving said he could not remember if he used that word but insisted optics played no role in the decision. “I cannot remember my exact verbiage. Had I used any language to the effect, it was all in reference to whether the intelligence was matched to the security plan,” he said.

The chiefs also disagree about who did what after the rioting began.

Sund said that at 1:09 p.m. he made an urgent call to Irving requesting that the sergeants at arms declare a state of emergency and call in the National Guard (Sund did not have the authority to make this request himself). Sund said he followed up at 1:22 p.m. to check on the status of his request. According to Sund, Irving said he would “run it up the chain of command,” which led to an hourlong delay where Irving said he was waiting to hear back from congressional leaders.

Irving said no such phone call ever happened. He said he had no memory or record of Sund calling him at 1:09 p.m., and said Sund called him closer to 1:30 p.m. saying the situation was deteriorating and that he “might be making a request at a later time.” According to Irving, Sund made the request for backup shortly after 2 p.m. Irving said he then declared a state of emergency without requesting approval from politicians.

This dispute was not resolved during the hearing. Both sides claimed to have evidence to support their version of events — Sund saying there were at least two witnesses to him making the 1:09 p.m. phone call, and Irving saying his phone records showed no calls or text messages at that time. Senators suggested they may take a look at Sund’s and Irving’s phone records to sort out the dispute.

The committee also heard that when Capitol security called for the National Guard, the Trump administration dragged its heels on approving it.

DC Metropolitan Police acting chief Robert Contee III described being on a phone call where Sund was “literally pleading” for the National Guard to be deployed to the Capitol. Contee said the Trump administration did not say no, but also did not give an immediate response.

“I have officers who are out there literally fighting for their lives,” said Contee. “I was just stunned at that response.”

The National Guard was not mobilized until around 3 p.m., two hours after Sund said he first tried to call for backup.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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