In days of testimony before Senate and House committees, three names have come up repeatedly. One of those is former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. It was Miller who issued explicit, and unprecedented instructions to the D.C. National Guard which not only limited their equipment, but made it more difficult for them to be deployed in an emergency.
The second is former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. Even when the Guard had been supposedly approved for deployment, McCarthy appears to have stepped in to demand details of how they would be used, even as Capitol Police and Metro D.C. Police were waging desperate efforts to protect Congress and push back protestors. Both McCarthy and previous Sec. of Defense Mark Esper appear to have worked closely with the National Guard during earlier protests, but on Jan. 6, McCarthy’s primary role appears to have been delaying the arrival of Guard forces for hours.
And finally there is Gen. Charles Flynn. Flynn is the younger brother of disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn. In initial reporting, Pentagon officials were quick to state that Flynn wasn’t part of a phone call on Jan. 6 in which Capitol Police begged for National Guard assistance. Then it was admitted that Flynn was in the room, while insisting that he didn’t participate. Then it became clear that Flynn was a major part of the discussion and one of those who drove decisions.
One thing that’s blindingly obvious after the first week of House and Senate hearings, is that Miller, McCarthy, and Flynn must be called to testify directly concerning their roles in the assault on the Capitol.
On Jan. 20, The Washington Post reported that the Army spent days simply lying about the presence of Charles Flynn during a meeting where the Capitol Police repeatedly informed Pentagon officials that the Capitol had been breached and they were in urgent need of assistance. Eventually, Flynn admitted to being present at the meeting. However, as the Post reported, “Army officials declined to answer several questions about Flynn’s statement, including how long he was in the room during the call, whether he said anything, and if he was the one who described the crowd at the Capitol as mostly peaceful.”
As testimony from Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commander of the D.C. National Guard made clear, Flynn wasn’t just passing through the room during the meeting. Neither was he just sitting quietly on the flanks. Walker said that it was Flynn who expressed concern about the “optics” of sending in National Guard forces. And, incredibly, even after insurgents had bashed their way into the halls of Congress and erected a gallows on the lawn, Flynn said he was worried that the presence of uniformed troops might “inflame” the Trump mob.
Meanwhile, Walker had nothing but praise for the close operations between former secretary of the Army and the D.C. National Guard during earlier events. Even as Walker took ultimate responsibility for the mistakes made during those deployments—such as the dangerous use of a helicopter in an attempt to intimidate protestors at a protest following the police murder of George Floyd—he was apparently baffled by McCarthy’s actions during the Jan. 6 insurgency.
Despite having insurgents already inside the Capitol, a crowd of thousands that pushed through four lines of police security, and Metro police fighting a battle against overwhelming odds to repel invaders from the tunnels that led straight to where members of Congress had been secured, McCarthy refused to give the go-ahead until he understood “exactly how the National Guard was going to be used.” That apparently included demanding a face-to-face meeting with Capitol Police commanders that didn’t occur until more than two hours after the doors of the Capitol were battered open.
And behind McCarthy’s actions was the infamous memo from Christopher Miller. On Jan. 4, McCarthy forwarded a request from Walker that the D.C. National Guard be allowed to stand by to support Capitol Police. In response, Miller placed constraints on the National Guard that Walker described as “unprecedented.” Those included: not allowing the Guard to wear any protective gear, such as vests or helmets; not allowing the Guard to share either equipment or intelligence with the police; not interacting with protestors; not allowing any riot control agents; and not using any “Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assets” to conduct “Incident, Awareness and Assessment activities.”
It was only right that the investigation into events on Jan. 6 start by speaking with the former chief of the Capitol Police and with officers on the ground on that date. From that point, discussions have also engaged the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms who were involved in planning and decision making. The Senate and House have also heard from the FBI director and from some of those in intelligence who were responsible for putting together the picture of what was going to happen on Jan. 6.
The hearings so far have made it clear that:
- The process of managing security in the city of Washington D.C. and in the area around the Capitol is needlessly and dangerously complex. In particular, the need to carry approvals through the Capitol Police Board makes it nearly impossible to deal with real emergencies.
- The intelligence on the ground was not just poorly distributed, but astonishingly low in quality. Despite months of incitement by Donald Trump, and weeks of warnings that Jan. 6 was going to be the target of violent action by white supremacist militias, the product delivered to both Metro D.C. police and Capitol Police was late, weak, and confusingly inconsistent. The intelligence failings on Jan. 6 were, by several measures, worse than those leading up to 9/11.
But what’s also obvious at this point is that it’s time to stop hearing from proxies like Robert Salesses, who has both the ungainly title of “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security” and the unenviable task of trying to explain the thinking behind the actions of Miller, McCarthy, and Flynn. It’s time to bring those three men before the Senate or the House, using any paperwork—or police work—necessary to ensure their presence.
That’s not just because these men are at the top of the pyramid in what we know so far, but because they might not be the top. After all, Charles Flynn was advising holding back the National Guard at the same time that his older brother was encouraging Trump to institute “limited martial law” and force the nation to conduct a re-vote under his terms. Miller was limiting the utilization of the National Guard at the same time Trump was encouraging his supporters to go “wild.” And McCarthy was delaying deployment even as Trump was continuing to tweet encouragement to the insurgents.
It is not too much to insist on a reckoning from these men. And to demand to know if they also received orders.