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U.S. Capitol Police request continued National Guard help amid security threats

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warned of continued threats to the Capitol this week.
Image: Members of the National Guard patrol the grounds of the Capitol on March 4, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Members of the National Guard patrol the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

U.S. Capitol Police are asking to keep National Guard members around for a while longer to help protect the complex, two defense officials confirmed.

The police officials made the request of the Defense Department as fears of another assault on the Capitol by extremists went unrealized Thursday. The request highlights the continued concerns about security at the building.

Police asked for a 60-day extension, The Associated Press reported. The nearly 5,000 troops still in Washington had been scheduled to return home next week. The defense officials said the request was an initial ask, with a more detailed request still to come.

In a letter to congressional leaders obtained by NBC News, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said that the number of troops being requested was less than half the current number and that it would be reduced over time. The letter asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for help getting the required authorization from the Pentagon.

In a statement acknowledging the request, Capitol Police noted the increase in threats against members of Congress over the last two months. "The department takes its mission seriously and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that mission," the statement said.

The National Guard's presence at the Capitol was beefed up after the deadly riot on Jan. 6, when hundreds of President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building to delay or stop the counting of electoral votes in favor of Joe Biden.

Security was heightened at the Capitol on Thursday after the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent a joint intelligence bulletin warning state and local law enforcement officials that some domestic extremist groups have "discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March," a senior law enforcement official said.

March 4 is considered the "true inauguration day" by some Trump supporters and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The bulletin also warned that extremists had been emboldened by the success of the attack on the Capitol, heightening the overall threat they pose. It made it clear that "the threat did not begin or end on January 6," the law enforcement official said.

The attack has resulted in the erection of additional barriers around the Capitol, in addition to the large troop presence — which lawmakers have complained about during recent hearings on security issues and elsewhere. Some Democrats have expressed concern about the true level of safety at the Capitol, while some Republicans have downplayed the need for the enhanced security.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., told The Associated Press that lawmakers have been concerned about the security plan going forward.

"We want to understand what the plan is," Slotkin said. "None of us like looking at the fencing, the gates, the uniformed presence around the Capitol. We can't depend on the National Guard for our security."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, suggested at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week that the security presence amounted to "political theater" intended to cast Trump supporters in a negative light.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that he was "outraged" by the request from Capitol Police

"I haven’t been satisfied with any explanation Congress has received at numerous briefings that all these personnel, resources and barbed wire are needed," he said, adding that Capitol security is the job of civilian law enforcement and that's where improvements should be made.

"What this solution should not look like is keeping the National Guardsmen here indefinitely, as has been rumored," he said. "This is not their job or their mission — and the image this would paint on the world stage is concerning."

Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she thinks the National Guard should remain "as long as needed."

Pelosi, who appointed retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to lead a review Capitol security, said she hopes to present a draft of the plan to the House next week.