U.S. Lawmakers Say Police Downplayed Threat of Violence Before Capitol Siege

As the mob swarmed into the U.S. Capitol, Pennsylvania congresswoman Susan Wild took cover, squeezing into a tight aisle in an upper-floor gallery and inching across the floor as supporters of President Donald Trump banged on the doors, Reuters writes.

“That was when it really started to get scary,” said Wild, 63, describing Wednesday’s dramatic siege of the complex that houses the U.S. Congress. After she fumbled to work a gas mask and briefly lost a shoe while dragging herself toward a door to evacuate, gunfire rang out. Police shouted, “Get down. Get down. Get down!” as people screamed, Wild said in an interview with Reuters.

Moments earlier, as hundreds of rioters stormed the building, U.S. Capitol Police officers barricaded the lawmakers inside the chamber of the House of Representatives, where they had just started the final certification of electoral votes showing Democrat Joe Biden had beaten Trump in the November election.

“It wasn’t until things really escalated that there was a kind of a panicky state,” said the Pennsylvania Democrat.

A day after the historic security breach of the iconic domed building that houses the U.S. House and Senate, lawmakers told harrowing tales of their escapes from grave danger in the deadly mob assault that many say was incited by Trump. Several told Reuters that top Capitol security officials had assured them they would be safe ahead of the planned protests and that everything was under control.

As recriminations began in Congress, officials at other branches of government said they could have provided more people to secure the Capitol – but no one from the Capitol Police asked. A senior U.S. defense official said that the Pentagon had been in touch with the Capitol police last week and as late as Sunday but were told that they would not require assistance from the National Guard.

“We asked more than once, and the final return that we got on Sunday, January 3, was that they would not be asking DOD (the Department of Defense) for assistance,” said Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security.

The siege that left five people dead, including a police officer, and up to 60 officers injured, prompted lawmakers to demand an investigation into security lapses. Fallout has been swift. The Capitol Police chief will resign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House sergeant at arms would resign. And top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said he would fire the Senate sergeant at arms.

In interviews with Reuters and in public statements, lawmakers fumed over the failure of the Capitol Police – a 2,000-member force dedicated to guarding the Capitol Grounds – and other agencies. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies and chief defenders, said the invaders, many carrying weapons or unsearched backpacks, “could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could have destroyed the government.”

“How could we not be prepared?” he asked at a news conference. If the Capitol Police had been in the military, he said, “they would have been relieved of their commands and most likely court-martialed” and tried for crimes in a military court.

Capitol Police did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund released a statement praising his officers’ response to an overwhelming situation. The department, he said, had a “robust plan” to handle “anticipated First Amendment activities.”

Sund, who on Thursday agreed to resign, described the “mass riots” as “criminal” and said the officers were “heroic given the situation.”

For weeks, Trump had urged supporters to show up for a “wild” march to “Save America” in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6. In his speech that day, he repeated baseless claims of voter fraud in the election won by Democrat Joe Biden and exhorted his supporters to “fight.”

Despite danger signs leading up to Trump’s rally, several lawmakers told Reuters that top Capitol security officials had assured them in meetings they did not expect violence at the event. No one could get on the Capitol grounds and police had plenty of manpower to handle any incidents, the lawmakers said security officials told them.

Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, said she had repeatedly warned Police Chief Sund and other police officials about growing evidence that right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers planned to descend on the nation’s capital. There had been pervasive chatter on the web and social media platforms, she said, focused on how these groups would try to sneak weapons into the District of Columbia.

The California Democrat said she initiated a one-hour telephone call with Sund on Dec. 31. “They had assured us that everything would be under control,” Waters told Reuters in an interview.

She called Sund again during the riots, while barricaded in her office with her staff. She said she was frightened and furious at the lack of communication from police. Sund offered little comfort, she said.

As she watched the events unfold on the television in her office, Waters described the scenes to the chief as they talked. The chief, who seemed calm, told Waters several times, “We are doing the best we can.” She responded: “It’s not good enough,” and hung up.

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