Portman Presses Federal Witnesses on Restrictions on D.C. National Guard Commanding General’s Authority to Deploy on January 6

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questioned Robert Salesses, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Homeland Defense and Global Security, Department of Defense, and Major General William J. Walker, Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard, on the restrictions on Major General Walker’s authority to deploy National Guardsmen to the Capitol at the second joint oversight hearing on breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Major General Walker testified about the unusual restrictions, including the requirement of a concept of operation prior to deploying the quick reaction force. Portman also voiced his frustration that the decision-makers at the Department of Defense on January 6 did not testify at today’s hearing. 

A transcript of the exchange can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “Thank you, Chairman Peters, and thanks to our witnesses. General Walker, can you continue to talk about your recollection, if you don’t mind? This morning you have testified that you received this letter from Army Secretary McCarthy on January 5, so just the day before the attack on the Capitol. In that letter, did Secretary McCarthy prohibit you from employing the National Guard’s quick reaction force without his authorization?” 

District of Columbia National Guard Commanding General William J. Walker: “So I have the letter in front of me, and his letter does not, but it is the Secretary of Defense says that I have to use it as a last resort. But the Secretary of the Army told me–and it’s–I have the letter–that I could not use the quick reaction force. I’ll just read it.” 

Portman: “Yeah.” 

Gen. Walker: “‘I withhold authority to approve employment of the District of Columbia National Guard quick reaction force and will do so only as a last resort in response to a request from an appropriate civil authority. I will require a concept of operation prior to authorizing employment of a quick reaction force.’ Now a quick reaction force normally is a commander’s tool to go help either a civilian agency, but more typically, to help the National Guardsmen who are out there and need assistance.” 

Portman: “I think it’s the very definition of a quick reaction force to be able to react quickly. And when you got to go through that kind of an authorization, including coming up with a concept of operation before the Secretary or, as you say, the Secretary of Defense, so the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense, would approve deployment seems to me to be contrary to the whole concept of a quick reaction force.” 

Gen. Walker: “And just to be clear, the Secretary of Defense said I could use it as a last resort.” 

Portman: “Last resort, right.” 

Gen. Walker: “But the Secretary of the Army says that I could only use it after he gave me permission and only then after a concept of operation was permitted.” 

Portman: “And we talked about the chain of command earlier, so your chain of command is both of these gentlemen. In other words, you didn’t have the authority to deploy that quick reaction force based on either the letter or the earlier memo that went from the Secretary of Defense, Acting Secretary of Defense to the Secretary of the Army. Is that correct?” 

Gen. Walker: “That’s correct. Yes, sir.” 

Portman: “Yeah, I also thought it was odd, and I think you said it was unusual and very prescriptive, that the January 5 letter required the Secretary of the Army to approve the movement of deployed guardsmen from one traffic control point to another. Did you find that unusual?” 

Gen. Walker: “19 years I never had that before happen. So on that day the Metropolitan police, as they would any other day, requested that a traffic control point move one block, one block over. Traffic was–no traffic was where they were, so they wanted the traffic control point to move one block. I had to get permission. I told him, I’ll get back to you. I contacted Lieutenant General Piatt who contacted the Secretary of the Army. I had to explain where that traffic control point was in relation to the Capitol, and only then did I get permission to move the three National Guardsmen supporting the Metropolitan Police Department…” 

Portman: “These are three unarmed National Guardsmen who are helping with traffic control, in part so that Metropolitan Police can do other things, and they were not permitted to move a block away without getting permission from the Secretary of the Army. Is that true?” 

Gen. Walker: “That’s correct.” 

Portman: “Yeah, and then in your testimony you also talk about riot gear. That January 4 memorandum from Acting Secretary Miller to the Army Secretary required the personal approval of the Secretary of Defense for the National Guard to be issued riot gear. Is that correct?” 

Gen. Walker: “That’s correct, but the Secretary of the Army told me to go ahead and put it in the vehicles. I give him credit for that.” 

Portman: “Yeah, you said that earlier. You gave him credit for saying at least have it there so it was accessible.” 

Gen. Walker: “Yes.” 

Portman: “But still, you couldn’t prepare for a civil disturbance without getting permission from the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense. Is that true?” 

Gen. Walker: “Normally for a safety and force protection matter, a commander would be able to authorize his guardsmen to protect themselves with helmet and protective equipment.” 

Portman: “Well, as I said earlier, I’m disappointed we don’t have someone from DoD who actually was there at the time. I think you’re being put in a tough position, Mr. Salesses. But Mr. Salesses, I have to ask you why did the Department of Defense impose these restrictions on General Walker’s control of the National Guard on January 6?”

Defense Department Homeland Defense and Global Security Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary Robert Salesses: “Senator, Secretary Miller wanted to make the decisions of how the National Guard was going to be employed on that day. As you recall, Senator, the spring events, there was a number of things that happened during those events that Secretary Miller, as the Acting Secretary…”

Portman: “Clearly he wanted to. The question is why? And how unusual–don’t you think that’s unusual based on your experience at DoD?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Senator, there was a lot of things that happened in the spring that the Department was criticized for.”

Portman: “But don’t you think that was unusual?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Sir, if I could, Senator, civil disturbance operations, that authority rests with the Secretary of Defense. So if somebody was going to make a decision about employing military members against U.S. citizens in a civil disturbance operation…” 

Portman: “Well, let’s talk about the quick reaction force, then. Again, you’ve got a lot of experience, look at your background.” 

Mr. Salesses: “Yes.” 

Portman: “We appreciate your being here. Again, you weren’t making any decisions that day. They kind of put you forward here as the person to answer questions, based on your discussions with individuals. But isn’t the purpose of a quick reaction force to quickly react to unfolding situations?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Senator, it is. It is designed to do that.” 

Portman: “Isn’t requiring a pre-submitted concept of operations antithetical to the idea of enabling quick reaction?”

Mr. Salesses: “Again, Senator, I would call our attention to the quick reaction force that day was designed to respond to the traffic control points and the metro stations. We did not have a quick reaction force to respond to the events that unfolded on the Capitol.” 

Portman: “Well, I don’t know that that’s true. General Walker, did you not have a quick reaction force as part of the D.C. Police? I think you did. You had police officers who were also guardsmen who were involved in your quick reaction force, correct?” 

Gen. Walker: “I did.” 

Portman: “And wouldn’t they have been appropriate to respond to an attack on the Capitol?” 

Gen. Walker: “In my opinion, they would have been.” 

Portman: “I don’t know. Look, again, I wish we had the people who were making the decision, Mr. Salesses, and I don’t want to put you in this position, but you’re all we’ve got in terms of talking to DoD today. In your opinion, did the attack on the Capitol constitute a last resort?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Last resort? You mean an immediate response, sir?” 

Portman: “No, no. Remember, in the letter it said only as a last resort. Do you think a last resort situation occurred when there was an attack on the Capitol?” 

Mr. Salesses: “There was certainly a last resort situation that occurred, Senator.” 

Portman: “So why did it take the Department of Defense so long to authorize the use of the National Guard, in particular, the use of the QRF?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Senator, I can relay what I’ve obtained from my discussions with the personnel that were involved that day. And if you’d like to go through the timeline or just answer the question based on why the decision-makers, in this case Secretary McCarthy, if we go through the timeline, clearly at 2:22pm, as has been mentioned today, Secretary McCarthy at 2:30pm, as I pointed out in my oral statement, went down and saw Secretary Miller at 2:30pm. 

“At 3:04pm, Secretary Miller made the decision to mobilize the entire National Guard. That meant that he was calling in all the National Guard members that were assigned to the D.C. National Guard. At 3:04pm, that decision was made. Between that period of time, between 3:04pm and 4:10pm, basically, Secretary McCarthy had asked for–he wanted to understand because of the dynamics on the Capitol lawn with the explosives that — obviously, shots had been fired — he wanted to understand the employment of how the National Guard was going to be sent to the Capitol, what their missions were going to be, were they going to be clearing buildings, would they be doing perimeter security? How would they be equipped? 

“He wanted to understand how they were going to be armed because, obviously, shots had been fired. He was asking a lot of questions to understand exactly how they’re going to be employed here at the Capitol and how many National Guard members needed to be employed on the Capitol.” 

Portman: “Let me just say, with all due respect, and my time is coming to an end, you know, 3 hours and 19 minutes. 3 hours and 19 minutes from the first call, plea, really, with his voice cracking with emotion, as the Major General said, you have Chief of Police Sund saying help. We need help now. 3 hours and 19 minutes. And that can’t happen again. Do you agree with that?” 

Mr. Salesses: “Senator, I do.” 

Portman: “Thank you.”