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Pentagon, D.C. officials point fingers at each other over Capitol riot response

Confusion and finger-pointing continue between local and federal law enforcement agencies after Wednesday's siege of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Members of the DC National Guard are deployed outside of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Members of the DC National Guard are deployed outside of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.John Nacion / Sipa USA via AP

WASHINGTON — City officials here said it was the Pentagon that planned to keep the presence of National Guard troops at Wednesday's pro-Trump rally small, unarmed and distant from the Capitol. But Pentagon officials said they were merely responding to the city's wishes to "keep things de-escalated."

A timeline released by the Pentagon late Friday says Capitol Police twice declined help from the Defense Department in the days prior to Jan. 6. But it also shows that when the city officials and the Capitol Police requested additional National Guard troops after rioters breached the Capitol, it took four hours for those troops to arrive.

Confusion and finger-pointing continued between local and federal law enforcement agencies in the wake of Wednesday's siege of the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob, which has now resulted in five deaths, including one Capitol Police officer.

A spokesperson for Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser's office said it was the Army secretary, not the city, responsible for the key decisions in the National Guard's response, including their delay in mobilizing when violence escalated.

The Army secretary, not the city, set the number of National Guard troops at about 300, decided not to use armored vehicles and "established that the guard members were not to move East of 9th Street NW," roughly nine blocks away from the foot of the Capitol, said mayoral spokeswoman LaToya Foster.

Foster said the Army also delayed the use of the National Guard to back up the Capitol Police after the Capitol had been breached.

But defense officials said they provided the support that the Capitol Police and the city government requested and never turned down requests from city officials.

Pentagon timeline

The Pentagon released a timeline Friday that showed a Dec. 31 "written request" from Mayor Bowser and D.C. security and emergency officials Christopher Rodriguez for National Guard assistance to the city’s police and fire departments. A Dec. 31 memo from Rodriguez that was obtained by NBC News requested that “No DCNG personnel will be armed during this mission.”

According to the memo, the D.C. National Guard’s primary mission would be crowd management and assistance with blocking vehicles at traffic posts. There would be six crowd management teams to manage crowds at “specified Metro stations and a team to assist 30 “designated traffic posts,” Rodriguez wrote.

On Monday, Jan. 4, according to the timeline, the DoD agreed to provide 340 members of the D.C. National Guard to Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller also authorized the Army secretary to deploy a quick reaction force of 40 personnel “if additional support is requested by civilian authorities.”

The Pentagon said the city police department had requested only a supporting role for the National Guard, mainly to handle traffic checkpoints and Metro stations to free up police officers for other tasks. It also said the Capitol Police did not request assistance in the days leading up to the planned Jan. 6 protest. The Pentagon timeline says that on Jan. 3, “DoD confirms with U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) that there is no request for DoD support,” and that on Jan. 4, the Capitol Police confirmed again in a call with the Army secretary that there was no request for DoD help.

According to the Pentagon’s timeline, officials became aware of demonstrators moving to the Capitol just after 1 p.m. The timeline says that the Capitol Police ordered the building evacuated at 1:26, and that Mayor Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Sund requested help from the DoD by phone at 1:34 and 1:49 respectively.

The acting secretary of defense verbally authorized deployment of additional National Guard troops 75 minutes later, at 3:04 p.m., according to the timeline. The timeline describes an additional conversation with Bowser and a separate discussion of the Sund and Bowser requests by top Defense officials in the interim, but there also intervals of 33 and 30 minutes with no phone calls or meetings listed.

The timeline also lists a call between Bowser, the D.C. police chief and the Army secretary at 3:26, in which the defense official tells the local officials their request for troops was not rejected, and that the deployment has been authorized.

According to the timeline, the D.C. National Guard troops did not leave the D.C. armory until 5:04 p.m, and arrived at the Capitol at 5:40, four hours after they were first requested by the mayor.

At 5:45, the acting secretary of defense formally authorized Virginia and Maryland National Guard troops to support the Capitol Police. The governors of both states had offered their assistance hours earlier. Virginia’s Ralph Northam had tweeted the offer at 3:29 p.m.

The Pentagon said Capitol Police and Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department had initially requested only a supporting role for the National Guard, mainly to handle traffic checkpoints and Metro stations to free up police officers for other tasks.

The D.C. National Guard troops “were equipped appropriately for the mission requested by the D.C. government in its written request, which was to provide traffic control at designated intersections and Metro stations,” a senior defense official said. “The D.C. Government made it clear they wanted unarmed support.”

Any suggestion from D.C. officials that the Pentagon failed to provide everything the government asked for in its Dec. 31 request is “clearly and demonstrably false,” the defense official told NBC News.

The Pentagon chose to transport the National Guard contingent of more than 300 troops in SUVs and minivans instead of armored military vehicles, as they wanted to avoid a high-profile military presence that could potentially raise tensions among the crowd at the Jan. 6 rally, a second Defense official said.

"That was a deliberate attempt to keep things de-escalated and not present an appearance that we had to surround our capital with troops," the second Defense official said.

Pentagon officials told reporters in a phone briefing on Thursday that they had National Guard troops return to the D.C. Armory for riot gear with the Capitol Police and the D.C. government asked them for help as the situation deteriorated on Wednesday.

The Pentagon has insisted it moved quickly to move in reinforcements once the request for additional help was conveyed on Wednesday afternoon, and that it took about two hours to deploy more troops from the D.C. National Guard.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said on MSNBC on Friday that after he received a call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer during the chaos on Wednesday, pleading with him to help, he was able to send in Maryland state police. But, Hogan said, it took about 90 minutes to get approval from the Pentagon to send in Maryland's National Guard.

"I informed him we had called up the guard, but we didn't have authorization yet," Hogan told NBC's Andrea Mitchell, referring to his call with Hoyer.

Members of the DC National Guard provide traffic control at an intersection near a rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington on Jan. 5, 2021.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Prior to the release of the timeline, Pentagon officials had said that during the Sunday, Jan. 3, planning meeting, the Defense Department offered the Capitol Police and the city of Washington additional National Guard troops, but were turned down.

Said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, "We were informed that additional support from DoD was not needed."

But Bowser's office maintains that by Sunday, the Pentagon had not yet approved its initial request, though it later would before Wednesday's protests.

Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said that during the meetings, law enforcement provided "general descriptions of some internet traffic" from groups who planned to support the Trump rally on Jan. 6, "but overall the assessment we got repeatedly was there was no indication of significant violent protests."

During a briefing with reporters on Friday, Steven D'Antuono, FBI Washington Field Office assistant director in charge, told reporters that the bureau's threat assessments leading up to Wednesday's mobbing of the Capitol showed "there was no indication that there was anything other than First Amendment protected activity."