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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Top Lawmakers Not Told of Police Request for Backup Before Riot, Aide and Others Say

Top Lawmakers Not Told of Police Request for Backup Before Riot, Aide and Others Say

“The rejected request was another key breakdown in the security failure ahead of the violence at the Capitol.

A makeshift memorial for Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who was killed last week in the siege.
Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the days leading up to the mob attack on the Capitol, congressional security officials never let House and Senate leaders know that the Capitol Police had warned they might need National Guard backup, according to a congressional aide and other people familiar with the matter.

The police request, made to the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, was prompted by intelligence that showed Trump supporters planned to target the Capitol itself as Congress certified the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, according to a congressional official. The Capitol Police asked the sergeants-at-arms to request that the National Guard be placed on standby.

But the sergeants-at-arms, Michael C. Stenger of the Senate and Paul Irving of the House, rejected the request without raising the issue with either the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the aide and another person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving, who have resigned amid the fallout from the violence, would most likely have had to ask the leaders whether to approve the requests for such a serious measure, according to former sergeants-at-arms.

The sergeants-at-arms and the chief of the Capitol Police were also among officials who briefed lawmakers the day before the riot and reassured them that they were prepared for the events that day, going so far as to say the National Guard was on standby, though only a modest contingent was on duty to provide traffic control. The sergeants-at-arms are the chief law enforcement officers for the House and Senate, responsible for security matters and keeping order.

Their inaction was a key breakdown in a series of security decisions that left the Capitol inadequately protected as thousands of Trump rioters breached the building, leading to the melee that killed a Capitol Police officer and one of the rioters.

Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving did not respond to email or phone requests for interviews, or knocks on their doors.

The details of the communications breakdown came amid new promises on Friday of sweeping reviews of the government’s failures ahead of the riot, as well as a Capitol Police investigation into whether Republican lawmakers aided members the insurrectionist mob beforehand.

National Guard troops patrolled near the Capitol on Friday.
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The Capitol Police inquiry focuses on accusations by members of Congress that their own colleagues might have allowed members of the pro-Trump mob into the building in the days before the assault. Investigators were combing visitor logs, the Capitol Police said, and Ms. Pelosi spoke of legal jeopardy for those who aided the riot.

“If in fact it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection — if they aided and abetted the crimes — there may have to be action taken beyond the Congress in terms of prosecution for that,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Newly released court documents made clear the danger at the Capitol was worse than feared, and prosecutors accused some of the riot’s most prominent figures of intent to harm lawmakers.

At least 40 people have been arrested so far and nearly 100 charged in connection with the riot, law enforcement officials told reporters on Friday. The F.B.I. has conducted more than three dozen interviews in connection with assaults on law enforcement officials, including the death of a Capitol Police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, a bureau official said.

On Friday, federal prosecutors in Washington unsealed charges against one of their most wanted, Dominic Pezzola, a 44-year-old former Marine and member of the far-right Proud Boys group. In photographs and video from Jan. 6, Mr. Pezzola appeared to lead a group of men into the Capitol — using a stolen police shield to break in — in some of a handful of images that has come to symbolize the lawlessness and violence of the day.

According to a cooperating witness quoted in court papers, Mr. Pezzola had taken the shield from a Capitol Police officer. He and the mob he led intended to kill “anyone they got their hands on,” the witness said, including Ms. Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pezzola, a boxer known as Spaz, was intent on returning to Washington with his group next week to wreak more havoc at President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration, according to the witness.

“They plan to kill every single” person “they can,” the witness said, adding that Mr. Pezzola and his men had.”

Top Lawmakers Not Told of Police Request for Backup Before Riot, Aide and Others Say

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