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Politics & Government

Former Trump Officials To Defend Federal Response To Capitol Riot

Members of the National Guard and the Washington, D.C., police stand guard outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the complex.
Members of the National Guard and the Washington, D.C., police stand guard outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the complex.

Officials from the Trump administration will deliver testimony to Congress on Wednesday in defense of their handling of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection led by pro-Trump extremists, as lawmakers seek to pinpoint the administrative failures that led to the deadly riot.

Former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen will address the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to discuss what precautions the administration took in the weeks leading up to the rampage at the Capitol, as well as what steps were taken to quell the siege once it had begun.

"A principal concern for the Department of Defense was the apparent lack of coordination, synchronization, and information exchange with and between the numerous domestic law enforcement organizations having primary jurisdiction and responsibility over such matters in the District," Miller will tell lawmakers on the panel, according to prepared remarks obtained by NPR.

He is expected to also cite "commentary in the media about the possibility of a military coup or that advisors to the President were advocating the declaration of martial law" as a reason for seeking to limit the use of the military.

Law enforcement officials have faced withering criticism in the months since the riot for their apparent lack of preparedness for its severity, as well as for the poor optics surrounding the event, including images of police officers posing for photos with rioters and other behaviors that some say appear to have condoned the insurrectionists' behavior. The Capitol police chief as well as the House and Senate sergeants at arms all resigned under pressure from congressional leaders after the riot and have since pointed fingers at federal officials for shortcomings.

The response on Jan. 6 stood in contrast to the treatment last summer of demonstrators against racism and police brutality. Those events, which were largely peaceful, were often broken up by use of force, including rubber bullets and pepper spray. Federal officers' aggressive approach to protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House in June 2020 was especially criticized.

"The Department of Defense was very mindful of lessons learned from its experience providing support to local and federal law enforcement during the June 2020 protests near the White House and elsewhere in Washington in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder," Miller is expected to say. "One lesson was the need for close coordination with partner agencies because our military personnel and resources must be limited to playing a supporting role to the primary law enforcement entities and only involved in certain situations with well-defined responsibilities."

It took the Defense Department more than three hours to approve a request to deploy the National Guard, according to previous testimony, during which time service members sat idly by waiting for marching orders. That delay was caused in part, Maj. Gen. William Walker has testified, over concern about the optics of sending uniformed troops to the scene.

Miller is set to tell the panel that it would have run counter to his interpretation of the Constitution to hastily send a large number of uniformed troops to a demonstration. He will also push back against criticisms that it took too long for the National Guard to intervene, describing military operations as a deeply complex machine, particularly as it relates to urban areas like D.C.

"I stand behind EVERY decision I made that day and the ones I made in the days following January 6. Our Nation's Armed Forces are to be deployed for domestic law enforcement only when all civilian assets are expended and ONLY as the absolute last resort. To use them for domestic law enforcement in any other manner is contrary to the Constitution and a threat to the Republic," his written testimony says.

"Those of you with military experience or who understand the nature of military deployments will recognize how rapid our response was ... This isn't a video game where you can move forces with a flick of the thumb or a movie that glosses over the logistical challenges and the time required to coordinate and synchronize with the multitude of other entities involved, or with complying with the important legal requirements involved in the use of such forces."

Rosen, the former attorney general, similarly notes his expectation that the National Guard was to have been ancillary to Washington's primary law enforcement bodies — the Capitol Police, Park Police, and the Metropolitan Police Department — and said that while not explicitly requested of him, he took precautionary measures to prepare agencies under his jurisdiction to intervene on Jan. 6 if necessary.

"I believe that [the Department of Justice] reasonably prepared for contingencies ahead of January 6, understanding that there was considerable uncertainty as to how many people would arrive, who those people would be, and precisely what purposes they would pursue," Rosen will tell the panel, according to prepared testimony.

"Unlike the police, DOJ had no frontline role with respect to crowd control. The FBI, ATF, DEA, and U.S. Attorneys' offices, as investigative and prosecuting agencies, are generally not equipped for crowd control. But DOJ took appropriate precautions to have tactical support available if contingencies led to them being called upon."

Rosen is expected to describe what he says was his agency's "swift action" both on the day of and in the days following the insurrection and highlight the arrests made following the event.

NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

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