The commander of the Washington, D.C. National Guard considered sending troops to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, without permission from Defense Department leaders because of the rapidly escalating violence there. Ultimately, he opted against it because of conflicting messages from military leaders, according to a report released by congressional investigators on Thursday.
The anecdote is one of dozens of revelations in the 845-page final report from the January 6 Select Committee, which earlier this month referred charges of inciting insurrection and conspiracy against former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice.
The committee — which was boycotted by House Republicans, who decried its work as politically motivated — has been investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, carried out by hundreds of Trump supporters in an effort to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory.
Rioters attacked Capitol police officers, smashed windows and ransacked offices throughout the Capitol complex for more than three hours. Order was restored after National Guard troops arrived on site to bolster local security personnel.
But debate over why it took hours for that National Guard support to arrive has been one of the focuses of the committee.
The final report’s authors again laid blame for that on Trump.
“President Trump had authority and responsibility to direct deployment of the National Guard in the District of Columbia, but never gave any order to deploy the National Guard on January 6th or on any other day,” they wrote. “Nor did he instruct any Federal law enforcement agency to assist.”
As his forces waited for clear orders from the White House or Defense Department leaders on deployment to the Capitol complex, Maj. Gen. William Walker said he “strongly” considered moving ahead without explicit permission because of the mountain of security concerns.
“Guard officials located with Major General Walker at the Armory all say he seriously contemplated aloud the possibility of breaking with the chain of command,” the report states. “‘Should we just deploy now and resign tomorrow?’” [one officer] recalled Major General Walker bluntly putting it.”
“‘I would have done just that,’ Major General Walker said, ‘but not for those two letters.’”
Those letters were memos sent to Walker two days earlier from acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, putting restrictions on Guard deployments around the Capitol during the certification event because of the politics involved.
Walker was eventually granted permission to send forces after a flurry of phone calls between congressional leaders and top Defense Department officials. Trump was not involved in those discussions, the report states.
Almost 26,000 National Guard troops were mobilized in the weeks following the Jan. 6 attack and ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden. As many as 5,000 remained through March of that year due to lingering security concerns.
The report states that Trump did have some conversations about deploying National Guard troops on Jan. 6 with his senior staff, but that was in regards to providing security for a planned procession by Trump himself to the Capitol to challenge the certification, and not to help with the rioters.
That plan was eventually nixed by senior White House advisors, who said the situation was too dangerous to consider such a parade, investigators said.
Earlier this week, a group of five Trump-supporting Republican members of Congress released their own report on the Jan. 6 failures, blaming the violence that day on “leadership and law enforcement failures within the U.S. Capitol [that] left the complex vulnerable.”
They stated that the select committee report “disregarded those institutional failings that exposed the Capitol to violence.”
At least five people died in riots that day, including a Trump supporter shot and killed by Capitol Police. Numerous law enforcement officials were injured as the crowd surged past them to try and reach lawmakers.
More than 850 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack, according to the Associated Press.
Read it: Full final report by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.