WASHINGTON -- A top Army leader defended the Pentagon's response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, telling a House panel Tuesday that the National Guard was delayed for hours because it had to properly prepare for the deployment and that senior military leaders had agreed beforehand that there was "no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election."
Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of the Army staff, echoed comments from other senior military leaders about the perception of soldiers being used to secure the election process. He said the Pentagon wanted to be careful about its response in part because of concerns about military helicopters that had flown low over Washington streets during protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last year.
On Jan. 6, it took several hours for guardsmen to be equipped and given a plan for how to secure a building overrun by hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump, Piatt said.
"When people's lives are on the line, two minutes is too long," he said. "But we were not positioned to respond to that urgent request. We had to re-prepare so we would send them in prepared for this new mission."
Piatt's testimony took place as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will step up its investigations into the insurrection. She said Tuesday that the House "can't wait any longer" to do a comprehensive investigation after Senate Republicans blocked legislation to create an independent commission.
"Whether we have a commission today, tomorrow or the next day over in the Senate, or not, the work of the committees will be very important in what we're seeking for the American people -- the truth," Pelosi said.
One option under consideration is a select committee on the Jan. 6 riot, a setup that would put Democrats in charge. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans wanted to avoid a partisan investigation and supported the legislation that would have created an independent, bipartisan commission.
But those numbers weren't enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans is needed to pass most bills. Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York has said that he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there's no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.
"We can't wait any longer," Pelosi said. "We will proceed."
The hearing Tuesday in the House Oversight and Reform Committee was to examine "unexplained delays and unanswered questions" about the siege, with public testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray; Piatt; and Gen. Charles Flynn, who was previously Army deputy chief of staff.
All three men were involved that day as Capitol Police officers begged for backup. The National Guard did not arrive for several hours as police were overwhelmed and beaten by the rioters.
Piatt said he did not deny or have the authority to deny Guard help during a call with former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has previously said he believed Piatt and other Army leaders were concerned about the optics of soldiers surrounding the building. According to the Defense Department, military leadership approved activation of the full D.C. National Guard about 40 minutes after the call with Sund.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the committee, criticized Wray for not providing documents her staff had requested and asked him if he believed the FBI should be blamed for the law enforcement failures on Jan. 6.
"Our goal is to bat 1.000, and anytime there's an attack, much less an attack as horrific and spectacular as what happened on Jan. 6, we consider that to be unacceptable," Wray said.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including a Trump supporter who was shot and killed as she tried to break into the House chamber and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.