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Armed DHS agents were on standby near Capitol riot but weren't deployed till too late

The call to go to the Capitol did not come in time to help. “They just stayed there the entire time, waiting,” said an ex-official familiar with the events.
Image: Trump Supporters Hold \"Stop The Steal\" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol after a Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As a violent mob of Trump supporters outnumbered Capitol Police and stormed the Capitol, approximately 50 uniformed, armed personnel from the Department of Homeland Security stood inside a federal building just down the street waiting on a call to be deployed, according to two current DHS officials and one former DHS official.

But while the violence escalated, the call to deploy to the Capitol did not come in time to help.

“They just stayed there the entire time, waiting,” the former official familiar with the events told NBC News.

The roughly 50 DHS personnel, all from various parts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, were waiting in a staging area inside the Ronald Reagan Building, just 13 blocks from the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The officers, in blue, and the agents, in green, had waited in the same place this summer, just before they were called in to respond to protests outside the White House in the wake of George Floyd’s death. In that instance, they were called to be deployed by then-Attorney General William Barr.

On Wednesday, however, they were standing by to be deployed at the discretion of DHS’s Federal Protective Service, the officials told NBC News. FPS, which is responsible for protecting federal buildings and property, was one of a handful of federal agencies asked to be ready to respond to the protests, in coordination with the Capitol Police.

FPS had asked CBP to have agents on standby on Monday, Jan. 4, but did not call them during the heat of the siege on the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Some CBP agents were eventually deployed, but it was only after dusk and after the violence had largely subsided, the officials said.

A spokesperson for CBP declined to comment, and referred NBC News to FPS for comment. FPS did not respond to a request for comment. One DHS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said FPS was serving at the request of the Capitol Police because that force has ultimate jurisdiction over the Capitol and therefore makes decisions about what agencies are allowed to police it.

The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Jan. 5, the day before the protests, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a letter to the Justice Department and the Pentagon that the city's Metropolitan Police Department was not requesting federal law enforcement assistance besides the Capitol Police, Park Police and Secret Service.

Further, the city "discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD," Bowser said ahead of the protests planned for Wednesday.

In contrast, this summer in Portland, Oregon, CBP agents were used for months — over the objections of the mayor and governor — to assist FPS with the protection of the federal courthouse, which leftist protesters tried to attack. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown eventually struck a deal with the federal government to withdraw federal agents, though many CBP personnel remained on standby in Portland.