Democrat leaders who had condemned crackdowns on the violent Black Lives Matter riots of 2020 were too worried about “optics” to appropriately prepare for the massive protests at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to a lengthy new report about the security failures on that day. GOP lawmakers, who were prevented from collaborating on preparations for the joint session of Congress, found Capitol Police were left untrained to handle mass demonstrations while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was personally involved in security decisions that left the complex vulnerable to unrest.
The more than 140-page report, completed by an independent probe of GOP lawmakers who were barred access to material from Pelosi’s Select Committee on Jan. 6, illustrated a Capitol police force left understaffed, ill-equipped, and unprepared to confront the horde of demonstrators who descended on the congressional campus.
“Democrats and the Jan. 6 Committee used the Capitol Police as a political prop, then did nothing when USCP officers were harassed for telling the truth. They should be ashamed,” Indiana Rep. Jim Banks told The Federalist. Banks led the GOP investigation after Speaker Pelosi barred him from his appointment as ranking member of the select committee.
House Republicans documented how Pelosi’s office closely coordinated with senior security staff before the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress, where lawmakers would ceremonially certify the results of the 2020 election. While large-scale political events such as presidential inaugurations and state of the union addresses are designated as “National Special Security Events” by the nation’s top security brass, enhanced measures for public safety were absent on Jan. 6.
Democrats, including Pelosi’s staff, were reportedly concerned about the “optics” of a ramped-up police presence reinforced by National Guard troops to protect the Capitol. According to former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned in the riot’s aftermath, Pelosi’s deputies turned down requests for preemptive deployment of the National Guard six times in the run-up to Jan. 6, 2021.
Just over a month after the riot, Pelosi sought to exonerate herself by telling reporters, “I have no power over the Capitol police.”
“This is false,” Republicans stated, pointing to documents and witness testimony throughout their report showing how “then-House Sergeant of Arms Paul Irving carried out his duties in clear deference to the Speaker, her staff, and other Democratic staff.” House rules dictate that the sergeant at arms reports to the speaker, which has continued after the Jan. 6 riot with the installation of magnetometers outside the lower chamber and the erection of a perimeter fence around the complex at Pelosi’s direction.
Democrats’ reluctance to preemptively deploy the National Guard ahead of mass demonstrations, when even Capitol parking attendants had warned of disturbances, stemmed from Democratic lawmakers’ opposition to police the prior summer. Pelosi and House Democrats had previously condemned the presence of federal troops in the nation’s capital to quell the violent mobs that overran the city in the name of social justice.
Irving, according to the GOP report, routinely met with Democratic staff in the run-up to Jan. 6 without Republicans present.
“The [House sergeant at arms] had a pattern of and practice of seeking and obtaining permission from the Speaker for all security decisions,” Republican investigators wrote. They added that while Pelosi’s approval for National Guard troops on the day of the riot was not technically required — only the police board’s permission was needed — the speaker’s green light “had become required through years of practice.”
“Staff within the House Sergeant at Arms office emailed Paul Irving that January 6th was Pelosi’s fault,” Republicans wrote in a key finding, with identities redacted to protect staff from professional reprisal.
Police Understaffed, Ill-Equipped, and Undertrained
While officers were denied reinforcements from the National Guard until the Capitol was already under siege, the same officers left to defend the complex were practically defenseless. One unnamed officer told Republican investigators he or she was left to defend lawmakers with nothing but a baseball cap after leadership gave 15-year-old gear to new recruits.
A Department of Justice memo included in a June Judicial Watch lawsuit revealed that on Jan. 6, Capitol Police operated with “less than half” of what’s “usually assigned” for the House’s “normal staffing for a joint session.”
According to the GOP report, Capitol Police are still operating on a slim staff, more than 100 officers short of the authorized cap of 2,072.
Citing an agency inspector general report, Republican investigators noted that officers fought to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6 with expired munitions and compromised equipment. For example, “officers witness riot shields shattering on impact.”
“In some cases, equipment was disregarded because [U.S. Capitol Police] officers were not trained to use it,” investigators wrote.
One unnamed officer told Republicans that officers were denied regular trainings on potentially lethal weapons such as the baton.
“Obviously, we do firearms twice a year, but that’s about it for training on our equipment,” the anonymous officer told investigators. “Baton should be, at minimum, once a year. I mean, it’s a piece of equipment where we could actually hurt or kill somebody with, and we’ve never trained on it.”
Some training is now offered online. But Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger told House Republicans that continual staffing shortages limit the agency’s ability to conduct effective, regular, in-person training.
“A shortage of officers, a lack of training, and insufficient equipment does not entirely explain the failures at the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” lawmakers wrote in their report. “But the documents and testimony make clear that more officers who were better equipped and trained could have effected a starkly different outcome.”
The report makes clear that a combination of political motivations within senior Capitol leadership, inadequate preparation, and years of failure to implement past recommendations from the Government Accountability Office led to the security breakdown at the Capitol complex on Jan. 6, 2021.