Christopher C. Miller, who served as acting defense secretary during the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, was in the hot seat on Wednesday, when Rep. Ro Khanna of California, Rep. Steven Lynch of Massachusetts, and other Democratic lawmakers aggressively grilled him during a House Oversight Committee hearing on the response to the January 6 assault of the U.S. Capitol. Important questions also came from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, pointed to an apparent contradiction in the timeline of the invasion of the Capitol and Miller’s response to it.
Ocasio-Cortez told the Oversight Committee she wanted to “figure out” and “nail down a basic timeline, which, for whatever reason, has been a little bit difficult” — adding that it was “important to get the facts on the timing of some of these things.” The congresswoman noted that on January 6, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — seeing how dangerous the situation at the Capitol was — asked for help from then-Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy. Miller would eventually even talk to then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was seeking the military’s help at the Capitol, though Miller acknowledged Pence was not in the chain of command. He said he did not speak to Donald Trump during the attack.
Reporters Josh Kovensky and Kate Riga, in a Talking Points Memo, explained the background of the key issue Ocasio-Cortez was exploring:
The question comes down to two moments during the attack on the Capitol: 3:00 p.m., when the Pentagon says the order to mobilize the Guard was given, and 4:32 p.m., when the order to deploy them was given.
During that 90 minute period, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) noted, then-Vice President Mike Pence called Miller. The two had a conversation that Miller described as “brief.” The AP has reported that Pence, who was not legally capable of issuing military orders, told Miller to “clear the Capitol.”
Debates over when the National Guard should have been deployed have been obfuscated by people misinterpreting the 3:00 p.m. order to mobilize the guard with an order to physically deploy soldiers to the Capitol.
Miller has faced sharp criticism for the long delay in the Pentagon’s deployment of the guard to the Capitol. As the hours stretched on from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m before the guard arrived, some of the demonstrators were killed in the chaos, dozens of law enforcement officers were injured, some quite seriously, and lawmakers hid in fear for their lives. And the counting of the Electoral College votes was delayed, partially achieving the rioters’ aims. Many parts of the federal government, including the FBI and the Capitol Police, have come under fire for allowing the attack to happen and for it getting as far as it did. But Miller refused to take any responsibility for failure on Wednesday, telling Congress that he stands by his decisions that day.
But his story doesn’t totally add up, as Ocasio-Cortez showed. An evacuation was ordered of the Capitol at around 1:26 p.m., she said, and about 8 minutes after that, Mayor Bowser had called the military for help.
“At 3 p.m., about an hour and a half later, you determined that ‘all available forces of the D.C. National Guard are required to reinforce MPD and USCP positions,'” she said. “Now that’s not an authorization to deploy to the Capitol, correct?”
“Uh, I gave full authorization to deploy, ma’am,” Miller said. “I’m sorry, it went out at 3:04. I did at 3, yes.”
“It seems here that this is in contradiction with the Department of Defense timeline,” Ocasio-Cortez pointed out. “According to the Department of Defense timeline, you authorized the National Guard to clear the Capitol at 4:32 p.m.”
“I was waiting for the concept of operations, the plan, that Gen. Walker put together. So he had full authority, in my mind, at 3:04. And then he had to do his planning sequence to figure out how he wanted to accomplish that,” said Miller.
The “in my mind” phrase is telling — he seems to be acknowledging that he might not have actually effectively given the order he says he’s given. And even in his own telling, that plan still ended up going through an approval process after it was developed.
“So the actual order for the guard to help clear the Capitol,” the congresswoman pressed, “did not happen until 4:32 p.m., correct?”
“That’s when the plan was formally approved,” Miller admitted, using the passive voice, apparently to avoid taking responsibility for the delay. DOD’s timeline, however, specific that it was Miller who gave the approval then. He hadn’t mentioned the 4:32 approval of the plan at all in his opening statement, apparently trying to use the earlier time to suggest he had acted quickly. But Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Maj. Gen. William Walker, who led the National Guard that day, said he wasn’t actually allowed to send in the guard until shortly after 5 p.m. Miller tried to explain the discrepancy in the timelines by appealing to the “fog and friction” of the events. Despite being the head of the Defense Department, Miller seemed to be trying to blame his subordinate any delay. In the end, the National Guard wouldn’t arrive on the scene until nearly 4 hours after Bowser made her initial request.
In previous testimony, Walker had pinned the blame for the delay on Miller and the Pentagon. He disputed Miller’s contention that the deployment was rapid, and he said he could have moved troops more quickly if he had been permitted to.
As AlterNet previously reported on March 3:
Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commander of the National Guard in Washington, D.C., delivered disturbing new testimony on Wednesday about the delay in deployment of his forces during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
He was prepared to send a large number of troops to the Capitol immediately at 1:49 p.m. when he received a “frantic” call for backup from then-Chief of the Capitol Police Steven Sund. Sund was desperate for support as his officers’ perimeter had been breached by the mob of Trump supporters, gravely endangering members of Congress counting the votes of the Electoral College. Walker said Sund’s voice was “cracking with emotion” and pleaded that there was a “dire emergency at the Capitol.”
“He requested the immediate assistance of as many available National Guardsmen that I could muster,” Walker said.
It wasn’t until three hours and 19 minutes later that Walker would get permission from the Pentagon to deploy the troops, he said.
On Wednesday, Miller said: “Those of you with military experience or who understand the nature of military deployments will recognize how rapid our deployment was.” He said criticism of the response “is unfounded and reflects inexperience.” Yet that wasn’t Walker’s assessment:
But Walker contended that he was unnecessarily delayed and could have gotten about 150 troops out almost immediately.
“I would have had them assemble in the armory, and then get on buses and go straight to the armory and report to the most ranking Capitol Police officer they saw and take direction, and further,” he said. “We could have helped extend the perimeter and push back the crowd.”
It wasn’t until 5:09 p.m., Walker said, that he was given permission to act. In less than 20 minutes, the National Guard arrived at the Capitol, where more than 100 officers had reportedly been injured.
And if the problem was insufficient planning ahead of time, that responsibility, too, falls on Miller’s shoulders. He acknowledged in his opening statement that he did not believe Jan. 6 would be “business-as-usual” — suggesting he was aware that risks loomed over the day, he just wasn’t prepared to appropriately handle them.
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