The acting Capitol Police chief on Tuesday apologized to Congress for the security failures at the complex the day of the deadly Jan. 6 riots, acknowledging in an extraordinary statement that the department “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.”
During a closed-door briefing with the House Appropriations Committee, Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting head of the U.S. Capitol Police, said the department was outmanned and unprepared for the attack. She also admitted that a Capitol police board denied a request on Jan. 4 for additional support from the National Guard. It wasn’t until the building was overrun by a pro-Trump mob the panel relented, an hour after another plea was made.
“I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the Department,” Pittman told members of the spending panel, which has jurisdiction over the agency’s funding.
But Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, one of the board members, disputed Pittman’s claim that the Capitol Police made a formal request for an emergency declaration or additional National Guard support prior to Jan. 6.
“Despite the comments made today by the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Acting Chief before the House Appropriations Committee, then-Chief [Steven] Sund did not reach out to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) with a request for an emergency declaration or seeking National Guard support. The AOC has no record of a request for an emergency declaration by then-Chief Sund to the Capitol Police Board," Blanton said in a statement. "While then-Chief Sund may have engaged in conversations with other members of the Board, no such conversation occurred with the Architect or any AOC employee involved in Board matters."
“Furthermore, the AOC is not aware of any USCP requests (verbal or written) being submitted to the Board requesting additional support prior to January 6, 2021,” he added.
Sund and two board members resigned after the Capitol siege that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer. The Senate and House Sergeant-at-Arms also stepped down from their posts in response to the security breaches.
Pittman’s testimony — which she delivered via video conference — was first reported by The New York Times.
Timothy P. Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, also told lawmakers that it was “clear there was a failure of preparation.”
“Whether it was insufficient or conflicting intelligence, lacking ability to translate that intelligence into action, insufficient preparation or an inadequate ability to mobilize partner agencies for immediate assistance, a series of events, once thought unfathomable, unfolded allowing our most sacred halls to be breached,” he said.
The acting police chief, who described the siege as a “terrorist attack," informed lawmakers that the department knew the protests had the potential to turn violent and that the Capitol was a target.
“We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event,” Pittman told lawmakers. “We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target. The Department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough.”
Pittman also said the agency was simply outnumbered, noting they had just 1,200 sworn personnel working on site — “no match for the tens of thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) attacking the Capitol and refusing to comply with lawful orders,” she added.
Now, Pittman says, many officers — who had been working around the clock to prepare for the inauguration — are suffering from PTSD, as well as battling coronavirus infections.
The briefing marks the first time that officials have testified to Congress on the security breaches at the Capitol, though lawmakers have been briefed on ongoing threats to members and the complex.
But lawmakers who attended Tuesday’s closed-door session said they still have key unanswered questions.
"We knew at some level they knew, but the real question is, why was that intelligence not acted upon?" Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said during a press call. "So now we know they had it, we know they apologized, but we want to know why it wasn’t acted upon.”
“This is just the beginning of the beginning," he added.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, vowed that the panel will “continue to pursue answers to the questions that we did not cover today.”
"Today, we learned that the attack on the People’s House was preventable and that the government agencies tasked with keeping our country safe failed in their most basic responsibilities,” DeLauro said in a statement.
In the wake of the deadly riots, lawmakers have called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the mob attack, which includes examining the security failures that led to the deadly siege.
“We will have an after-action review; there will be a commission,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week.
Caitlin Emma and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.