“There’s questions into the leadership within, the structure of the speaker’s office, where they denied the ability to bring the National Guard here. … We start with a committee chair who will tell you, ‘Everything’s on the table except the speaker’s office.’ How can you ever get to the bottom of the questions? How can you ever get to the solutions to make sure the Capitol is never put in this position again?”
— House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at a news conference, July 27, 2021
“It is a fact that … in December of 2020, Nancy Pelosi was made aware of potential security threats to the Capitol and she failed to act. It is a fact that the U.S. Capitol Police raised concerns and rather than providing them with the support and resources they needed and they deserved, she prioritized her partisan political optics over their safety.”
— House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., at the news conference, July 27, 2021
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Republicans accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of failing to protect the U.S. Capitol from the attack on Jan. 6, claiming she ignored warnings about potential threats and denied a request to bring in reinforcements from the National Guard.
Many fact-checkers have rated these claims false. In March, we gave Four Pinocchios to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a close ally of former president Donald Trump, for leveling the same accusation at Pelosi without proof.
Five months later, it’s not just Jordan anymore. In a news conference held moments before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol held its first hearing, McCarthy and Stefanik, two top Republican leaders, said Pelosi failed to act on warning signs leading up to the riot.
“The American people deserve to know the truth that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th,” Stefanik said.
We asked representatives for McCarthy and Stefanik what proof they had. Just like Jordan five months earlier, they had none.
Before leaving office, Trump held a rally outside the White House on Jan. 6 and repeatedly urged attendees to march on Congress as lawmakers were certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. For months, Trump had been making false claims that rampant electoral fraud had cost him a winning margin of victory in key states.
“I said something’s wrong here, something is really wrong,” Trump said at the close of his Jan. 6 speech. “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
A mob stormed the Capitol, delaying the vote certification for hours. Many of the rioters have said they were incited by Trump. He denies any responsibility.
The riot led to five deaths, assaults on about 140 police officers and the evacuation of Congress. Authorities have estimated that about 10,000 people descended on the Capitol campus and that about 800 broke into the building. To date, about 550 have been charged with crimes.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a resolution in March to create a bipartisan commission styled after the 9/11 Commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, but the proposal did not get enough Republican support to advance in the Senate. The House then established a select committee to investigate the events of Jan. 6, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The accusations that Pelosi was aware of intelligence reports of a potential threat to the Capitol on Jan. 6, or that she turned down a request for reinforcements from the National Guard, have never been backed by proof.
There are three key players here: Steven A. Sund, the U.S. Capitol Police chief; Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael C. Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms. All three resigned under pressure after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Sund said he ran the National Guard request by Irving and Stenger on Jan. 4 and neither supported the idea.
In a Feb. 1 letter to Pelosi, Sund wrote that he “approached the two Sergeants at Arms to request the assistance of the National Guard, as I had no authority to do so without an Emergency Declaration by the Capitol Police Board (CPB).” He said he spoke first to Irving, who “stated that he was concerned about the ‘optics’ and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it.” Irving suggested Sund check in with Stenger, at the time chair of the CPB, and get his thoughts. “Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr. Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed and to ‘lean forward’ in case we had to request assistance on January 6,” Sund wrote.
Sund said he then contacted Gen. William Walker, commanding officer of the D.C. National Guard. Walker “advised that he could repurpose 125 National Guard and have them to me fairly quickly, once approved. I asked General Walker to be prepared in the event that we requested them.”
Note that there is no indication that Pelosi was at all involved. Irving supposedly had made a vague reference to “optics,” but there is no indication what that means. Moreover, Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, was also reluctant to support an immediate dispatching of National Guard troops. So there is little reason to suggest Irving, acting under Pelosi’s direction, alone was responsible. It appeared to have been a joint decision.
At a Senate hearing Jan. 23, Irving said that the proposed National Guard troops were to be unarmed and only to “work traffic control near the Capitol.” He included an explanation of the term optics: “My use of the word optics has been mischaracterized in the media. Let me be clear. Optics as portrayed in the media played no role whatsoever in my decisions about security. And any suggestion to the contrary is false. Safety was always paramount when making security plans for January 6th.”
In his questioning, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tried to drill down deeper in the conversations among Sund, Irving and Stenger. He asked Irving: “Were you concerned that having the Guard present would look like it was to militarize? Were you concerned about the criticism of the Guard being deployed in Washington … earlier this summer?”
In this question, Hawley was getting at the heart of the question about “optics” — the belief among some Republicans that Pelosi somehow had communicated to Irving that she did not want images of National Guard troops at the Capitol, given what had happened during the criminal justice protests after the George Floyd killing.
Irving, in his response to Hawley, threw cold water on such speculation.
“Senator, I was not concerned about appearance whatsoever. It was all about safety and security,” Irving said. “Any reference would have been related to appropriate use of force, display of force. And ultimately, the question on the table, when we look at any security asset, is: Does the intelligence warrant it? Is the security plan [a] match with the intelligence? And again, the collective answer was yes.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked whether Irving or Stenger had communicated the Jan. 4 decision on National Guard troops to congressional leadership.
“On Jan. 4, no, I had no follow-up conversations,” Irving said. “And it was not until the 6th that I alerted leadership that we might be making a request. And that was the end of the discussion.”
“For myself, it was Jan. 6 that I mentioned it to Leader [Mitch] McConnell’s staff,” Stenger said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, previously told us there had been no discussions between Irving and either Pelosi or her staff about National Guard deployment before Jan. 6. “We are not involved in the day-to-day operations of that office at all,” he said. “We expect security professionals to make security decisions.”
In a statement on Tuesday that linked to fact-checks of similar claims over the last few months, Pelosi’s office said “every single lie uttered by the Republicans this morning has been debunked time and again.”
A Senate report into the Jan. 6 attack found: “The entities responsible for securing and protecting the Capitol Complex and everyone onsite that day were not prepared for a large-scale attack, despite being aware of the potential for violence targeting the Capitol …
“The failures leading up to and on January 6 were not limited to legislative branch entities. As has been made clear in the Committees’ two public hearings on the subject, failures extended to a number of executive branch agencies. A key contributing factor to the tragic events of January 6 was the failure of the Intelligence Community to properly analyze, assess, and disseminate information to law enforcement regarding the potential for violence and the known threats to the Capitol and the Members present that day.”
In response to our questions, Stefanik issued a statement that falsely claimed “the sergeant-at-arms is a political appointee of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and can be fired by Pelosi at any time.” Irving, a former Secret Service supervisor, had been appointed in 2012 by then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Stefanik added that throughout December, “multiple intelligence reports” had been “shared with the Capitol Police, raising concerns about January 6th.” “The speaker’s office was aware of these concerns as reported by The Washington Post and chose not to act,” she said. In support of that claim, a Stefanik spokesman linked to a report in The Post that does not say Pelosi failed to act on intelligence reports about potential threats.
A spokesman for McCarthy said, “Evidence shows that then-Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving reported to Speaker Pelosi and he denied approval to bring in the National Guard (when asked by Chief Sund) prior to January 6.”
The spokesman, Mark Bednar, added: “The allegation is not that Nancy Pelosi said no National Guard. The concern is that the speaker, as the highest-ranking individual on the Capitol complex, had security responsibility for the Capitol, the security apparatus reported to her — and they said no, prior to the 6th.”
That’s different from what McCarthy said at the news conference, claiming that Pelosi (in his words, “the structure of the speaker’s office”) somehow stumped the request for the National Guard.
McCarthy also made another claim at this news conference suggesting Democrats were asleep at the wheel when it came to securing the Capitol.
He suggested that Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a Pelosi ally on the select committee investigating Jan. 6 and the chair of the House Administration Committee, which supervises the Capitol Police, had not held hearings into security matters since a report was issued by the Capitol Police’s inspector general.
“You had a chair of House administration with responsibility that did not come to the Capitol for more than six months,” McCarthy said. “First time showing back up? On January 3rd to vote for the speaker. No hearings about the IG report, no movement of Rodney Davis’s bill.”
McCarthy’s office did not say which inspector general report he was referring to, but the House Administration Committee has held five hearings on the Jan. 6 attack since the Capitol Police inspector general issued its first report and recommendations in February.
One of the hearings, titled “Reforming the Capitol Police and Improving Accountability for the Capitol Police Board,” was held weeks after Republicans on the committee, including the ranking Republican, Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, called for such reforms to the Capitol Police’s oversight structure. (The House Administration Committee did not take a six-month hiatus. It held virtual hearings during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.)
Repeating a false claim does not make it truer. No evidence has emerged to suggest that Pelosi ignored intelligence reports about potential threats or turned down a request for reinforcements from the National Guard as officials prepared for Jan. 6.
Under pointed questioning in the Senate on Jan. 23, security officials did not say Pelosi blocked requests for backup. Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms, testified: “It was not until the 6th that I alerted leadership that we might be making a request. And that was the end of the discussion.”
McCarthy, Stefanik and all the others leveling this baseless charge earn Four Pinocchios.
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