WASHINGTON — Two senior U.S. military officials involved in the response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol denied in testimony Tuesday that they advised against the deployment of District of Columbia National Guard because it wouldn’t have been “good optics.”
Their testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing about the riot contradicts what the commanding general of D.C.’s National Guard at the time, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, now the Senate sergeant at arms, previously told Congress.
In March, Walker told lawmakers that Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army staff, and Gen. Charles Flynn, brother of former President Donald Trump’s White House national security adviser, Michael Flynn, said it wouldn’t look good to send National Guard troops to the Capitol.
Piatt and Flynn on Tuesday denied that they made such comments.
“It has been stated that I used the term 'optics' in regard to having Soldiers respond to breach of the Capitol; I do not recall using this term on the 2:32 phone call on January 6,” Piatt said. “I respect and understand that others may recall things differently, but ultimately, on that day, my chief concern was ensuring the Army was able to effectively assist D.C. and federal authorities in regaining control of the U.S. Capitol.”
Flynn, who on Jan. 6 served as deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training for the Army, also said in his testimony that he never used the word “optics.” Flynn now serves as the commander of the U.S. Army Pacific.
“I did not use the word 'optics,' nor did I hear the word used during the call on Jan. 6, 2021, in response to any requests for support or during the planning and execution of that support,” Flynn said Tuesday. “I also never heard LTG Piatt or any other Army senior leader use that word that day. My duty that day was to facilitate the planning and execution of (Army) Secretary (Ryan) McCarthy’s decisions and guidance."
Walker told Congress in March, "The Army senior leaders said that it did not look good” and would not be "good optics,” adding, “They further stated that it could incite the crowd.”
Both Piatt and Flynn also denied that they'd ever turned down requests for help on Jan 6th. "I was asked three times if I was denying the request. I responded each time that I was not denying the request, and that I had no authority to approve or deny the request," Piatt said.
Piatt said that McCarthy asked how fast the 40-member quick reaction force could respond to the Capitol. Piatt recounted that Walker said that the force “could be ready to move in 20 minutes.” McCarthy directed Walker to prepare the force but wait to deploy from the D.C. Armory until he received approval from then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.
Piatt said that Miller didn’t approve the activation of the National Guard until just after 3 p.m. ET, a decision that didn’t get relayed to Walker until just after 5 p.m. ET.
At the hearing Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray also testified about the Jan. 6 attack as well as the general threat that domestic violent extremists pose to the American public.
Wray warned that the extremists who he said commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of social or political goals “will very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021 and likely into 2022.”
As has been the case in earlier hearings on the riot, some Republicans lawmakers downplayed the violence from the rioters. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., again called the death of Ashli Babbitt, a pro-Trump rioter who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer while trying to enter the House chamber, “an execution,” and accused the officer who shot her of "lying in wait" to do so.
He also demanded to know the identity of the officer, who was not charged criminally. The Justice Department announced in April that it would not charge the officer because there was nothing to contradict his contention that it was necessary to shoot at Babbitt "in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber."
The hearing was held at the same time as another before the House Administration Committee, where U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton testified about some of the of the department's shortcomings that were exposed by the riot at the Capitol, and how they can be fixed.
Among Bolton's recommendations were increased civil disturbance and medical training, and better coordination between different units.
In a statement, Capitol Police said it "welcomes and is already implementing many of the recommendations detailed" in Bolton's report.
"USCP leadership has already acknowledged there were communication shortfalls on January 6 and has pledged that will not happen again." the statement said.
Testifying alongside Bolton was Gretta L. Goodwin, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office, who said her office had recommended overhauling the USCP's board of directors and command structure back in 2017.
"We recommended that the board revise its manual to fully incorporate each of the leading practices to enhance accountability, transparency, and effective external communication. In so doing, we recommended that the board engage with its congressional stakeholders to solicit their input and incorporate their views as appropriate," Goodwin testified. "Since issuing our 2017 report, we have sought updates from the board on the status of the recommendation. As of today, the board has not provided us with any substantive information," she said.