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March 03, 2021

“It Shouldn’t Take Three Hours”: In Hearing on Insurrection, Senator King Seeks to Empower Local Leadership

Leader of D.C. National Guard agrees that process should be streamlined – emergency lines of communication should be direct, simple

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) questioned Major General William Walker, Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard, seeking reforms to flawed processes exposed by the January 6th breach of the U.S. Capitol. During his remarks, Senator King sought to understand the specific failures that led to the U.S. Capitol police being left without the backup of the D.C. National Guard for 3 hours and 19 minutes, fighting against violent insurrectionists who imperiled lawmakers, their families, Capitol Police Officers, and Congressional and Capitol Complex staff. His questioning came during the second in a series of joint hearings held by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration – on which Senator King serves as a member – and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee focused on the Capitol insurrection. 

SENATOR KING: “Let’s move to what we learned from this. In your view, should there be changes in the process, or changes in the chain of command, in an emergency situation, to enable the National Guard – whether it’s you in the District of Columbia, or a National Guard unit in New York, San Francisco or Austin, Texas – should this be something that we are concerned about? The three hours of reaction in a true emergency situation seems to be something we need to find out how to avoid.”

MAJOR GENERAL WALKER: “If I can answer it 2 ways: I think you should be concerned that [Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund] was not allowed to contact me and ask for help in advance, so then we could have the right forces positioned to support the Capitol Police and protect the Capitol. that’s one; and two, the request – the response to the request – did take too long. I think there needs to be a study done to make sure that never happens again. It shouldn’t take 3 hours to either say yes or no to an urgent request from either Capitol Police, the Park police, the Metropolitan Police Department. In an event like that, where everyone saw it, it shouldn’t take 3 hours. But before that would have happened, I think the Capitol Police should have been empowered to request national guard assistance, in enough time we would have been there ready – to have a large quick reaction force, sitting possibly at the armory, possibly closer, to be ready to respond; and, not be late.”

SENATOR KING: “I want to get to the larger issue: should we have a contingency plan – should there be an after action assessment within the Department of Defense about those 3 hours, and how to empower the local leadership – such as yourself – to react in an extraordinary emergency, so that you don’t have to go through whatever it was that caused the delay. Whether it was communication, or chain of command, or consultation. But clearly, this could be an emergency in another city, under entirely different circumstances, don’t you think it would be prudent for us to have contingency plans that would be more expeditious?”

MAJOR GENERAL WALKER: “Of course. So, emergency authority, to act in an emergency, to witness what occurred, to be able to respond. Yes – I think going forwards, someone should consider– at the Department of Defense, how the District of Columbia National Guard is able to respond in a much more expeditious manner.”

On January 6th, Senator King condemned the insurrectionists’ violent actions, and emphasized that they must be “arrested, prosecuted, and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.” The following day, he spoke with CBS’s 60 Minutes about the tragedy of that day and how we can work to “repair the tattered fabric of both the United States Senate and the country at large” as we move forward. Last month, Senator King voted to impeach the former President, citing President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric as the motivating factor in inciting the insurrection.  

In addition to Major General Walker, witnesses at today’s hearing included: Melissa Smislova, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice; and Robert Salesses, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security, U.S. Department of Defense.

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