At Joint HSGAC & Rules Oversight Hearing on January 6 Capitol Breach, Portman Delivers Opening Remarks on the Need to Address Delayed National Guard Response Time & Intelligence Failures

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at the second joint oversight hearing to examine the security failures that led to a breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Officials from federal national security and counterterrorism agencies will testify today on their roles in intelligence gathering, security preparations, and the response to the attack on the U.S Capitol. Portman discussed the need to address two imperative questions in this second hearing: Why was there a delay in support from the U.S. National Guard and did optics play a role? Was there credible intelligence about potential violence; when was it known; and who knew it? Portman also expressed concern that the decision-makers at the  Department of Defense on January 6 were not testifying at today’s hearing. 

A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Thank you, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Peters, and Ranking Member Blunt for the way you all have approached this process. It’s important that we keep it bipartisan. I would even say nonpartisan and I would hope that our review continues to put politics aside and focus on the facts – what happened that day and how can we avoid it happening again.   

“I want to begin by expressing again my gratitude to law enforcement, and National Guard is represented here today. From all over the country there are National Guard here in the Capitol still and we appreciate them. And we appreciate the fact that law enforcement put their safety on the line to safeguard democracy, also to protect us. And we will never forget that. 

“We owe it to those law enforcement personnel, and those National Guard, and to all Americans, to take a hard look at these security failures—both the preparation, that was inadequate, clearly, and the response, which also had some gaps that we will talk about in a moment. How could this have happened that the Capitol was breached and overrun? 

“We got some answers last week at our first joint hearing on the Capitol. I agree with what Senator Klobuchar just said, that it was a constructive first hearing. I thought it was productive and I thought that we were able to get some good information. We heard from the Acting Chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the former Chief of Capitol Police, the former Sergeants at Arms. What was good is that we actually heard from people who were responsible on that day for making decisions. I’m concerned that today we’re not going to be hearing from the Department of Defense officials who were actually in place at the time making the decisions. And I hope that we will have an opportunity to do that in the future.

“At last week’s hearing, we learned a number of things. We learned that the Capitol Police officers were not prepared to respond to an attack like the one we experienced on January 6—they were not given the appropriate training or equipment necessary to protect the Capitol complex, but also to protect themselves.  Also, we learned there were breakdowns in communication on January 6 and in the days leading up to it.  The most concerning breakdown in communication, of course, concerned the significant discrepancies between the recollections of the former Chief of Capitol Police and the former Senate and House Sergeants at Arms about requests for backup – for National Guard assistance in particular.  Each testified, under oath, to a different version of events. So we’ll get to the bottom of that. 

“The witnesses also pointed to lapses in intelligence as a key reason law enforcement was not better prepared.  They all claimed no intelligence warned of a coordinated, violent assault of the Capitol. But we know that there were reports out there. Both publically and from the FBI. There was at least one report from the FBI’s Norfolk field office warning of a violent attack on the Capitol. It was received by U.S. Capitol Police, but it never reached the former Chief. It never reached the former Sergeants at Arms or even the incident commanders on the ground. Many questions remain unanswered. 

“Despite the stated lack of intelligence, there were warning signs. Numerous online posts called for attacking the Capitol.  And the previously mentioned FBI Norfolk field report warned of violence and even ‘war’. We need to know what information the Intelligence Community reviewed prior to January 6, how it assessed that intelligence, how it characterized the potential for violence, and when it shared that intelligence with law enforcement. Second, although last week’s witnesses disagreed about when the Capitol Police requested National Guard assistance, all agreed that, once requested, it took far too long for the National Guard to arrive. We will dig further into this today. 

“Based on the Defense Department’s public timeline, once requested, it took the National Guard over three hours to arrive at the Capitol. Now remember, we’re all watching this on CNN, and FOX, and MSNBC and it’s a riot and yet it took more than three hours. The request came in from the Capitol Hill Police Chief Sund at 1:49pm and the Capitol Hill deployment did not arrive until after 5:00pm. We’ll hear some different timelines on that today but all of them are after 5:00pm. Closer to 5:30pm. So why did that happen? It’s unclear when senior Defense officials authorized the National Guard to deploy.  The Defense Department’s public timeline states that Army Secretary McCarthy directed the D.C. National Guard to mobilize at 3:04pm.  But according to the timeline the National Guard provided to the Committees—and a briefing from Major General Walker, Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard—the instruction to deploy didn’t arrive until 5:08pm. We need to know why the Pentagon took so long to deploy the National Guard. 

“According to the former Chief of Capitol Police and Acting Chief of D.C. Police and Major General Walker, the delay was due, in part, to concerns about the ‘optic’” of the National Guard at the Capitol.  We need to know what role, if any, optics played in the delay to provide much-needed assistance to U.S. Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to protect the Capitol and to get people out of the Capitol.  By hearing from representatives of the federal agencies responsible for the intelligence and the National Guard, today we expect to get clear answers to these open questions. Answering these questions is critical to our understanding of where the breakdowns occurred on and before January 6.  And only by understanding where the breakdowns occurred can we make the changes necessary to ensure that something like January 6 never happens again.  And that’s our objective here with this oversight mission. 

“Again, I appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to keep the politics out of this and focus on the facts and be objective. We have to continue to do that. I look forward to another constructive hearing today. Thanks to our witnesses for being here.  I look forward to your testimony.”