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Officials Testify To Senate On What Took The National Guard So Long On Jan. 6

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Three hours and 19 minutes - that is how long it took for D.C. National Guard troops to receive authorization to respond to a frantic call for help from the Capitol Police during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, those guard troops were sitting just minutes away from the building under siege. A joint Senate panel heard testimony today from military and national security officials to try to understand why it took so long for help to arrive. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis covered the hearings. She's here now.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Key testimony today from William Walker. He is the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, and he was talking about some of the reasons behind the delay. What explanation did he give?

DAVIS: Well, Walker testified that he was given orders from the Pentagon the day before January 6 that he would have to seek approval up the chain of command for any and all decisions on moving guard troops. He said that included even moving troops between things like traffic stops. Senators were surprised to hear this, including Ohio Republican Rob Portman, who had this exchange with Walker.

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ROB PORTMAN: Did you find that unusual?

WILLIAM WALKER: Nineteen years, I never had that before happen.

DAVIS: Walker said that order meant that when the Capitol - then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called him asking for military support when the building was being breached by pro-Trump rioters, Walker could not dispatch what's known as a quick response force that was at the ready just down the street at the D.C. Armory. He had to get on a conference call with senior Pentagon officials and wait for approval, which he said did not come down to him until more than three hours later after he'd made the request.

KELLY: I just - I can't get that number out of my head - three hours, more than three hours. Is there any explanation as to why the Pentagon put those restrictions on Walker?

DAVIS: Well, Walker did corroborate testimony that Sund gave last week that on that conference call, top Army officials raised concerns about the optics of sending troops to the Capitol. Walker said that he was, quote, "stunned" by those comments. As for the restrictions that had been put on him, a Pentagon official who testified, Robert Salesses said that there was concerns at the Pentagon about deploying troops after the pushback they received from the use of the guard during the spring and summer racial justice protests. And they wanted more discretion over that call.

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ROBERT SALESSES: The secretary of defense wanted to have that authority vested in him. It was a very clear chain of command. It went from the secretary of defense to the secretary of the army to General Walker.

DAVIS: Now, Salesses also disputed Walker's timeline a little bit. He did say approval was actually granted about 30 minutes prior to when Walker received it, and he acknowledged that delayed communications were a mistake that day.

KELLY: It sounds like these hearings have identified all kinds of mistakes, all kinds of problems. Have they identified any solutions?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, there's pretty broad agreement that there needs to be more power given to individuals to be able to move faster in these kind of rapid uprising situations. Our colleague Tom Bowman spoke to a Pentagon official today who said part of the problem was that there was no request put in for the military to help prior to January 6 and that the military simply can't move as fast as they need to when things happen so quickly. One specific area that people are looking at is remaking the four-member Capitol Police Board so it doesn't require all of them to approve calling the guard in, which is what Sund needed before he could make his call, which also led to delays that day.

KELLY: And meanwhile, a reminder that the threat to Congress is not over, that a lot of people are watching closely what might happen tomorrow.

DAVIS: Yeah, the Capitol Police put out a public bulletin today saying they are aware of and, more importantly this time, prepared for a new threat to the Capitol. They said they obtained intelligence reports that indicate an unidentified militia group is possibly trying to plot to breach the Capitol tomorrow. There is a far-right conspiracy theory that former President Trump will return to power on March 4, which is the original inauguration day for presidents prior to 1933.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.