A new report from Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton has sent congressional leaders scrambling after finding that Capitol police were told that they could not use critical riot materials and tactics in preparation for the Jan. 6th protests. The finding challenges the narrative put forward in the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. It also raises questions of whether congressional leaders (who repeatedly condemned Trump for the death and injuries of officers) share responsibility for the loss of control of Congress to the rioters.
The report, “Review of the Events Surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Takeover of the U.S. Capitol,” raises additional questions over the responsibility of figures in Congress for the lack of sufficient forces and materials to deal with the protest. Previously, it was disclosed that offers of National Guard support were not accepted prior to the protests. The D.C. government under Mayor Muriel Bowser used only a small number of guardsmen in traffic positions.
The report magnifies suspicions over why House leadership refused to hold hearings with key witnesses before the second Trump impeachment. It also raises whether, after the controversial clearing of Lafayette Park in the prior summer, leaders in Congress hamstrung their own security force.
Ultimately, over 140 law enforcement officers were injured during the riot, and Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick later died. Two other officers later died by suicide.
Bolton and his staff reportedly found in its 104-page report that, three days before the riot, officials were warned in an intelligence assessment that “Congress itself is the target” in the planned protests. Congress was further warned that “Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.”
That would seem more than sufficient reason to call for National Guard support and assemble the full force and resources available to the Capitol Police. According to the Inspector General, that is not what happened. Instead, the plan stated that there were “no specific known threats related to the joint session of Congress.” More importantly, the Capitol Police’s Civil Disturbance Unit was ordered by supervisors not to deploy the department’s highest level resources and tactics in addressing any problems. This including the use of “heavier, less-lethal weapons,” including stun grenades. The report states categorically that they “were not used that day because of orders from leadership.” Instead, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a Capitol police officer inside the Capitol despite being unarmed and standing in a hallway.
That explains a lot. On the day of the riot, many of us familiar with the Capitol expressed disbelief over the lack of serious perimeter protections and the relative ease of protesters in breaching the Capitol.
This is precisely the type of information that should have been revealed in the weeks after the riot. Indeed, as previously discussed in repeated columns, the House Democratic leadership refused to hold a single hearing with key witnesses on what occurred before the riot. After using a “snap impeachment,” weeks went by without calling such witnesses before the Trump impeachment trial. Such evidence could challenge the narrative and raised questions over decisions made by Congress that left the Capitol vulnerable to such an attack.
The report also raises over the Lafayette Park effect. In the prior summer, White House officials feared that the compound could be breached by violent protesters who had injured dozens of officers and engaged in arson and attacks around the White House during that weekend. They decided to clear the area to install fencing (which Congress only ordered after the Jan. 6th riot). They also deployed the National Guard and the “heavier, less lethal weapons” that the Inspector General found were denied to the Capitol Police.
To this day, the media and many members continue to repeat false accounts of the Lafayette Park. Many still have stories posted that claim that Lafayette Park was cleared for Trump to hold a photo op in front of a church. I discussed those accounts in testimony before Congress and in columns on the clearing of the Lafayette Park area. NPR still has a story on its website entitled “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op.”
A wide array of witnesses and documents detailed how the plan to clear the area was put into motion over 24 hours before the actual operation — and long before any discussion of a photo op. The plan was approved by then Attorney General Bill Barr but was delayed because the officers were waiting for both fencing material and back-up personnel.
Yet, the narrative remained that this was a peaceful protest that was met with tear gas and stun grenades. While I criticized the use of force in the operation, calling the protest entirely peaceful is only possible by focusing on the time just before the clearing. As discussed in my testimony, some 150 officers were injured during the protests and half of those were injured around the White House. The Justice Department claimed 750 injured officers during the various protests. The attacks around the complex were so great that the President was moved into the bunker.
Nevertheless, Lafayette Park became the rallying cry against the use of National Guard personnel and resources like tear gas and pepper balls. After Lafayette Park, Mayor Bowser declared “if you are like me, you saw something that you hoped you would never see in the United States of America.” Democratic leaders and the media denounced the use of the guard and tear gas as akin to military rule. The New York Times even apologized for publishing a column of Sen. Tom Cotton encouraging the use of National Guard (and effectively fired the editor who approved the column).
Both the media and members are heavily invested in the Lafayette Park narrative. It would be embarrassing to report that the Congress should have ordered the same expansion of a fenced perimeter and guard deployment before the protests — let alone the use of non-lethal devices like pepper balls.
The question is whether that narrative influenced the restrictions placed on the Capitol Police. It was only after losing control of Congress that a full deployment of fencing, riot resources, and the National Guard was allowed. It then remained up for months at a huge daily cost. It was the ultimate example of locking the barn door after the horse had bolted. But in Washington, it is not really about horse or the barn. It is about who gets the blame.