Officials Feared ‘Optics’ of Deploying National Guard at Capitol Before Riot

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Rioters assault the Capitol, Jan 6. Video still via MSNBC

Security officials denied requests to put  the D.C. National Guard on standby on the eve of the assault on Congress because they feared the “optics” of placing soldiers on Capitol Hill, according to the former head of the U.S. Capitol police.

Steven Sund, who submitted his resignation as chief of the U.S. Capitol Police after the Jan. 6 mob rampage, said e placed emergency calls to the Sergeants at Arms of both houses of Congress,  as well to Pentagon officials, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff, two days before the incident, reports the Washington Post.

“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund recalled saying. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”

But Sund told the Post in an interview that officials turned him down, saying they were concerned about the “visual” of armed soldiers standing by police with the capital dome in the background, even though there were intelligence reports about the possibilities of violence.


Former Chief Steven Sund. Courtesy U.S. Capitol Police

Sund said the early deployment of National Guard troops might have prevented the rioters, estimated at more than 8,000 from breaking through the barriers set up in front of the Capitol buildings..

“If we would have had the National Guard we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive,” he told the Post.

His report was confirmed by  John Falcicchio, the chief of staff for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

“The situation is dire,” Falcicchio recalled Sund repeating.“Literally, this guy is on the phone, I mean, crying out for help. It’s burned in my memories.”

Similarly, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving said he wasn’t comfortable with the “optics” of formally declaring an emergency ahead of the demonstration, Sund said.

But Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger suggested that Sund should informally seek out his Guard contacts, asking them to “lean forward” and be on alert in case Capitol Police needed their help.

The refusal to help continued even during the opening hours of the crisis, said Sund, who claimed he pleaded for help five more times before guard troops were finally dispatched after protesters broke into the capital building.

Arguments over the lack of preparedness continued to roil Washington  over the weekend.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said she had raised concerns about the possibility of violence with Sund as early as New Year’s Eve.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Waters said the failure to provide sufficient backup left the force protecting the capitol “naked.”

“It was the worst kind of non-security anybody could ever imagine,” she said.

Ashan Benedict, chief of the Washington field division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the rioters had more equipment than police on the scene “and they weren’t afraid to use it.”

“They had apparently more bear spray and pepper spray and chemical munitions than we did,” Benedict said.

Meanwhile, the deadly toll of the riots expanded with the death by suicide of a 15-yerar veteran of the US Capitol Police (USCP).  Howard Liebengood,  who suffered injuries during the assault on Congress, took his life while he was off-duty, reports Fox5.

The 51-year-old officer is the son of former Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Howard S. Liebengood.

“Officer Liebengood was an example of the selfless service that is the hallmark of USCP,” Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement.

“This is a tragic day.”

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