WASHINGTON — City officials in D.C. say it was the Pentagon that planned to keep the presence of National Guard troops at Wednesday’s pro-Trump rally small, unarmed and distant from the Capitol. But Pentagon officials say they were merely responding to the city’s wishes to “keep things de-escalated.”
Confusion and finger-pointing continue between local and federal law enforcement agencies in the wake of Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob, which has now resulted in five deaths, including one Capitol Police officer.
A spokesperson for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office said it was the Army secretary, not the city, responsible for the key decisions in the National Guard’s response, including their delay in mobilizing when violence escalated.
The Army secretary, not D.C., set the number of National Guard troops at about 300, decided not to use armored vehicles and “established that the guard members were not to move East of 9th Street NW,” roughly nine blocks away from the foot of the Capitol, said D.C. Mayor’s Office spokeswoman LaToya Foster.
Foster said the Army also delayed the use of the National Guard to back up the Capitol Police after the Capitol had been breached.
But defense officials said they provided the support that the Capitol Police and the D.C. government requested and never turned down requests from city officials.
The Pentagon said Capitol Police and Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department had requested only a supporting role for the National Guard, mainly to handle traffic checkpoints and Metro stations to free up police officers for other tasks.
The D.C. National Guard troops “were equipped appropriately for the mission requested by the D.C. government in its written request, which was to provide traffic control at designated intersections and Metro stations,” a senior defense official said. “The D.C. Government made it clear they wanted unarmed support.”
Any suggestion from D.C. officials that the Pentagon failed to provide everything the government asked for in its Dec. 31 request is “clearly and demonstrably false,” the defense official told NBC News.
The Pentagon chose to transport the National Guard contingent of more than 300 troops in SUVs and minivans instead of armored military vehicles, as they wanted to avoid a high-profile military presence that could potentially raise tensions among the crowd at the Jan. 6 rally, a second Defense official said.
“That was a deliberate attempt to keep things de-escalated and not present an appearance that we had to surround our capital with troops,” the second Defense official said.
Pentagon officials told reporters in a phone briefing on Thursday that they had National Guard troops return to the D.C. Armory for riot gear with the Capitol Police and the D.C. government asked them for help as the situation deteriorated on Wednesday.
The Pentagon has insisted it moved quickly to move in reinforcements once the request for additional help was conveyed on Wednesday afternoon, and that it took about two hours to deploy more troops from the D.C. National Guard.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said on MSNBC on Friday that after he received a call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer during the chaos on Wednesday, pleading with him to help, he was able to send in Maryland state police. But, Hogan said, it took about 90 minutes to get approval from the Pentagon to send in Maryland’s National Guard.
“I informed him we had called up the guard, but we didn’t have authorization yet,” Hogan told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, referring to his call with Hoyer.
Pentagon officials said that on Sunday, during a planning meeting, the Defense Department offered the Capitol Police and the city of Washington additional National Guard troops, but were turned down.
Said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, “We were informed that additional support from DoD was not needed.”
But Bowser’s office maintains that by Sunday, the Pentagon had not yet approved its initial request, though it later would before Wednesday’s protests.
Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said that during the meetings, law enforcement provided “general descriptions of some internet traffic” from groups who planned to support the Trump rally on Jan. 6, “but overall the assessment we got repeatedly was there was no indication of significant violent protests.”
During a briefing with reporters on Friday, FBI spokesman Steven D’Antuono told reporters that the bureau’s threat assessments leading up to Wednesday’s mobbing of the Capitol showed, “there was no indication that there was anything other than first amendment protected activity.”
Mosheh Gains contributed.
Pentagon, D.C. officials point fingers at each other over Capitol riot response The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ NBC News.