Trump could have helped response to Jan. 6 riot — but didn’t — per new testimony

Trump could have helped response to Jan. 6 riot — but didn’t — per new testimony

Donald Trump could have cleared up confusion and hastened the arrival of National Guard troops to quell the Capitol riot if he’d called Pentagon leaders on Jan. 6, 2021, according to recent closed-door congressional testimony by two former leaders of the D.C. guard.

Michael Brooks, the senior enlisted leader of the D.C. guard at the time of the riot, and Brigadier Gen. Aaron Dean, the adjutant general of the D.C. guard at the time, told House Administration Committee staffers that if Trump had reached out that day — which, by all accounts, he did not — he might have helped cut through the chaos amid a tangle of conflicting advice and miscommunication.

“Could the president have picked up the phone, called the secretary of defense, and said, you know, ‘What’s going on here?’ Our law enforcement is getting overrun, make this happen!’” a committee staffer asked Brooks, according to the transcript of a previously unreported March 14 interview reviewed by POLITICO.

“I assume he could expedite an approval through the Secretary of Defense, through the Secretary of the Army,” Brooks replied.

But Trump never called any military leaders on Jan. 6, per testimony from senior administration officials to the Jan. 6 select committee — a fact that the panel emphasized in its final report that concluded Trump was uniquely responsible for the violent Capitol attack by his supporters. Rather, he was observing the riot on TV and calling allies in his quest to subvert the 2020 election, as outlined by committee witnesses and White House records.

Brooks’ exchange with the committee staffer underscored the reality of Trump’s inaction: “And to your knowledge, did that happen on January 6th?” the staffer continued.

“No,” Brooks said.

Dean, similarly, noted that if Trump had placed a call to Pentagon leaders at 2 p.m. — around the time the Capitol was first breached — and said “go,” the guard would have reached the Capitol sooner than it did that day.

“I think if the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, or the president had said ‘Go,’ … or a combination thereof had said ‘Go,’ then we would’ve gone and we would’ve been there much faster,” Dean told congressional investigators on March 26.

Rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Brooks and Dean are among four witnesses slated to testify Wednesday before a House subcommittee probing security failures that exacerbated the breach of the Capitol. All four were top advisers to William Walker, the commander of the D.C. guard on Jan. 6. Other witnesses include Timothy Nick, who was the aide-de-camp to Walker, and Earl Matthews, a top lawyer for the National Guard at the time. POLITICO reviewed transcripts of closed-door interviews that all four men gave to the Administration Committee over the past five weeks.

The bulk of their testimony focused on deep disagreement between the D.C. guard leadership and the Pentagon about when and whether an order was given to deploy to the Capitol. The witnesses told the Administration Committee that military leaders seemed reluctant to send guard troops to the Capitol until hours after violence had broken out.

Further, they described mixed messages on phone calls with the Pentagon that left them in a holding pattern, lacking clarity about whether they had permission to deploy. All four also indicated they had testified to the Jan. 6 committee in an “informal” capacity, meaning there were no transcripts of their interviews.

And they said they had virtually no contact from Ryan McCarthy, the then-Army secretary, even though he was a key player who was in frequent contact with the D.C. guard in the run-up to Jan. 6.

McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment. He has told the Jan. 6 committee that a call from Trump would not have hastened the National Guard response because he was already moving as quickly as possible.

The testimony is the latest addition to a complicated picture of the military’s response to the violence, which raged for hours on Jan. 6 until the D.C. police and National Guard helped the Capitol Police contain it that evening. The riot select committee found that Trump made no calls to senior leaders of the Justice Department, Pentagon or Department of Homeland Security while the violence raged — nor did he reach out to his vice president, Mike Pence, who was sheltering from the mob at the Capitol.

Rather, Trump watched the riot unfold on TV and made phone calls to lawmakers who he hoped would support his bid to block President Joe Biden’s victory.

The men, whom the panel described as “whistleblowers,” sharply dispute claims by former Pentagon leaders — from McCarthy to then-Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley — that the National Guard was deployed to the Capitol as quickly as possible on Jan. 6.

Rather, they say, they had no contact from Miller or McCarthy until much later in the day, and they sharply dispute claims that McCarthy authorized the guard’s deployment to the Capitol by 3:04 p.m. on Jan. 6.

That’s the context in which Brooks and Dean suggested that perhaps a phone call from Trump — as conditions at the Capitol were clearly deteriorating — could have cut through the clutter and resulted in a quicker deployment.

Matthews differed from Brooks and Dean on the question of whether Trump’s involvement could have made a difference. Because Trump had already delegated authority to Miller and McCarthy, there was little for him to do, according to Matthews, who told the Administration Committee that it’s not clear whether McCarthy would have heeded his call.

“The president wasn’t going to call us because he’s trusting the chain of command,” Matthews told the Administration panel. He noted that some testimony to the Jan. 6 committee underscored concerns among military leaders that Trump might try using a troop presence at the Capitol for nefarious purposes.

In his testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, McCarthy denied harboring concerns that Trump might misuse the National Guard.

“I mean, in the lead-up to it, [I] did not see anything that would give you the sense he was going to order us to send troops to the Capitol in support of anything untoward,” McCarthy said.

In a statement Matthews issued ahead of his public testimony, he elaborated on his belief.

“The committee knew that even if President Trump had called down personally to the Secretary of the Army, who had effective operational control of the D.C. National Guard, to direct the immediate movement of the Guard, it would have had no impact.”

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