The Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General released on Nov. 16 a report about the department’s preparation for and response to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The 153-page report reaffirms previous assertions from top military officials that the Department of Defense responded appropriately on the day of the insurrection and did not improperly delay the deployment of the D.C. National Guard (DCNG). The report adds to a growing number of executive branch inspectors general reports about Jan. 6. The inspector general for the United States Capitol Police (USCP), for example, previously released several “flash reports” investigating various elements of the department and suggesting areas of improvement.
The Defense Department inspector general opened the investigation detailed in the report on Jan. 15, examining requests for departmental support received before and during the Jan. 6 riot and looking into how the Defense Department responded to these requests. During the inquiry, the inspector general conducted interviews and evaluated more than 24.6 gigabytes of emails and documents. The report is divided into six sections: Section I gives an introduction, Section II provides an overview of the conclusions and recommendations, Section III gives an overview of the Defense Department’s and the DCNG’s mission, Section IV examines the relevant events leading up to Jan. 6, Section V provides details of the events on Jan. 6, and Section VI details recommendations to improve the Defense Department’s Defense Support of Civil Authorities policies. The bulk of the report comes in Sections IV and V, which give detailed timelines of the events leading up to and during the Jan. 6 riot.
Since its release, the report has come under fire for purported inaccuracies, particularly about the inspector general’s assessment that optics did not play a role in the Defense Department’s response time. Despite the criticism, the Office of the Inspector General continues to stand by its findings. Given all the controversy about the report, it’s useful to take a closer look at what it actually says. Below, I’ve highlighted three key takeaways from the report.
Defense Department Culpability
The Defense Department faced widespread criticism for its response to the Jan. 6 riot. This criticism came from outside observers but also from other components of the executive branch. The USCP, for example, blamed the Defense Department for not sending reinforcements quickly.
One question that arose in the wake of the riot was whether components of the Defense Department could have acted to preempt the Jan. 6 riot. The report details that there was no policy in place that would have permitted the department to act preemptively without presidential direction to prevent the events of the Jan. 6 riot. Rather, the inspector general found many legal limitations on the Defense Department’s role in providing support for domestic civil disturbance operations, concluding that civilian law enforcement has the primary responsibility for maintaining law and order in Washington, D.C., and the Defense Department has only “supplementary” responsibilities.
Criticism of the Defense Department’s response to the Jan. 6 attack also centered on the fact that it took three hours for Pentagon officials to send backup to the USCP. The D.C. government and the USCP accused Defense Department officials of slow-walking an emergency call for DCNG reinforcements as the rioters threatened to breach the Capitol building.
Deploying the National Guard is more complicated in D.C. than in the states. Governors, as the commander in chief of their state’s military, can send their National Guard units for assistance during emergencies. However, since D.C. is not a state and does not have a governor, the president has the authority to activate the DCNG. This authority has been delegated, by the president, to the secretary of defense and further delegated to the secretary of the Army.
The inspector general determined the department “did not delay or obstruct” the response. The report claims that the three hours it took for the DCNG to be deployed were appropriate and necessary for determining the amount of personnel and equipment needed and getting new orders approved and delivered to commanders. The report praises military officials for adhering to protocol while navigating “a chaotic and confusing situation.” The inspector general notes that this was especially commendable considering that the initial reports the Defense Department received during the early afternoon of Jan. 6 were contradictory.
Maj. Gen. William Walker’s Senate Testimony
On March 3, Maj. Gen. William Walker, the now-retired commander of the DCNG, and other national security officials testified before the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees on the Jan. 6 attack. Walker described how the Defense Department placed “unusual” restrictions on the National Guard and took more than three hours to grant him the authority to send reinforcement to the USCP. After the hearing, Walker received praise for his candor in criticizing how confusion delayed the DCNG’s response as rioters brutalized police. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, commended Walker as “[a] leader of great integrity” and appointed him House sergeant at arms.
The report raises questions about Walker’s account of the events during the insurrection. The report gives its own detailed timeline of decisions by the Pentagon and local leaders leading up to and on Jan. 6.
The inspector general reports that following the announcement by then-President Trump that a planned large gathering would be held at the Capitol to protest Congress confirming the Electoral College votes, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a Request for Assistance (RFA) on Dec. 31 asking for DCNG reinforcement from Jan. 5 through Jan. 6. According to the report, then-Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller signed off on the RFA on Jan. 4 but stipulated that civilian law enforcement, not the military, should lead the response and exhaust all of their assets before turning to the Defense Department. Then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy gave a letter to Walker the day before the demonstration authorizing him to assemble a 40-person Quick Reaction Force (QRF) stationed at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
The report then describes that just before 2:00 p.m. the Defense Department and the DCNG began receiving calls for help from various federal and D.C. government officials. Per the timeline given in the report, the Army Operations Center reported to Army senior leaders at 1:40 p.m. that an estimated crowd of 15,000-20,000 people are “moving in the direction of the National Capitol.” Beginning at 1:49 p.m, the Defense Department and the DCNG received numerous calls from various federal and D.C. government officials requesting immediate assistance. At 2:20 p.m, during a conference call with Army Staff members, civilian officials from the D.C. government and the USCP, then-chief of the USCP Steven Sund requested National Guard backup at the Capitol. Miller approved the guard mobilization at 3:04 p.m. At 3:48 p.m., McCarthy left the Pentagon and went directly to the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. The QRF group and additional Guard members arrived at the Capitol, two hours later, at 5:55 p.m. to help law enforcement secure the grounds.
The report paints a picture of miscommunication between the USCP and the Pentagon in the hours that followed, leading to allegations from Sund that the Defense Department was refusing to assist law enforcement.
Walker took major issue with this timeline. According to the report, Walker had to be told twice to send troops to the Capitol. The former general maintains that account is not accurate.
When he testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees on March 3, Walker said that he “immediately” alerted the Army senior leadership with the request for assistance to be sent to the Capitol. The approval was relayed back to him “3 hours and 19 minutes later,” and he had 155 Guard troops sitting idly by for hours before he was authorized to deploy them. He expressed frustration with how slowly senior defense officials were responding.
Walker also testified that, the day before the insurrection, he received a letter laying out an “unusual” requirement that before the employment of the QRF, he would have to clear a “concept of operation” before McCarthy. When asked what he would have done when Sund called requesting National Guard support had the restriction not been imposed, Walker answered that he would have sent the Guard troops to the Capitol “without delay.”
The inspector general report concluded, however, that Walker failed to immediately deploy DCNG personnel once given authorization to do so. The report details that McCarthy called Miller at about 4:32 p.m. with a plan to re-mission and deploy the DCNG to support the USCP at the Capitol. Per the report, at that point, Miller immediately greenlit the plan. The inspector general found that McCarthy first notified Walker that Miller approved the re-mission request at approximately 4:35 p.m but had to call the general again “to reissue the deployment order” about 30 minutes after McCarthy “originally conveyed it,” according to an unidentified witness cited in the report.
Furthermore, army officials interviewed by the inspector general found that Walker was aware of the “unusual” restriction on employing the QRF but did not express any concerns. One witness said:
The discussion of QRF implementation beforehand was very clear and General Walker understood it and he knew exactly what needed to happen if the QRF needed to be employed and he had no questions or concerns at that time. He was using June  as a baseline too, and honestly in my opinion is the fact that the Secretary had to approve the QRF [would] absolve General Walker of any liabilities issues if he did employ the QRF.
Walker detailed his frustration with the inspector general’s report in an interview with the Washington Post, where called the inspector general’s findings “incomplete,” “inaccurate,” and “sloppy work,” and demanded that the report be retracted and corrected. Walker told the Post that if the inspector general does not properly examine the circumstances that delayed the deployment of the DCNG, the mistakes of the response could be repeated in future crises. Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the advocacy group Project on Government Oversight, noted that inspectors general typically run sensitive details like these by the parties involved to verify them.
Optics and Response Time
According to the inspector general, the Defense Department’s response to the June 2020 racial justice protests made certain Defense Department officials skittish about deploying forces to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The report notes that the Defense Department was widely criticized for its heavy-handed response to the summer 2020 protests. Kenneth Rapuano, former assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told the inspector general that this negative criticism made the Defense Department more hesitant regarding its role in future civil disturbance missions.
The report recounts one incident in particular that left a mark on the department. On June 1, 2020, DCNG troops were mobilized and eventually deployed in response to the eruption of violent protests in D.C. following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A recording of a DCNG UH-72 medical evacuation helicopter hovering over a group of protesters in D.C. went viral, sparking public criticism of the Defense Department’s response. The inspector general notes that Politico reported at the time, “The optics of the past 72 hours are putting people inside the halls of the Pentagon on edge as images of U.S. troops on the streets of the nation’s capital dominate airwaves across the globe.”
Multiple witnesses interviewed by the inspector general said that they believed concerns over optics did play a role in response time.
The inspector general reports that Walker stated that Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt and then-Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn advised McCarthy not to send Guard troops to the Capitol because “it would not be a good optic and could incite the crowd.” Gen. James McConville, chief of staff for the Army, told the inspector general that the sergeants at arms, out of concern for potentially negative optics, did not approve of a proposal to submit a request for additional support from the DCNG:
[T]he general feeling of all those involved [with approving the D.C. RFA] was that the military would have no role, and many people talked about the optics of having military at the Capitol. What that would look like, how that would influence even some of the demonstrators or protesters. And so there was a general feeling among everybody that the military would be in a very small and supporting role even to this point with the traffic control points.
Outside sources have also alleged that optics played an outsized role in the Defense Department’s decision-making process on Jan. 6. For example, on Feb. 23, acting chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Robert Contee III testified in a joint hearing that, during the 2:20 p.m. conference call on Jan. 6, officials were more concerned about the poor optics of boots on the ground on the Capitol than they were about responding to Sund’s pleas to send the National Guard.
Recently, Politico detailed the contents of a 36-page-memo from Col. Earl Matthews, which alleged that Flynn and Piatt lied to Congress and attempted to cover up their lack of response to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Matthews, who was serving at the time as the top attorney to Walker, alleged Flynn and Piatt opposed deployment of the National Guard during the 2:20 p.m. conference call after rioters breached the building’s perimeter over concerns that “[t]he optics of having uniformed military personnel deployed to the U.S. Capitol would not be good.” Flynn and Piatt recommended the DCNG standby rather than be deployed to the Capitol, a characterization both men denied. Furthermore, Matthews’s memo called the report’s claim that McCarthy had to call Walker twice on Jan. 6 “an outrageous assertion” and claimed that it was McCarthy himself who was unreachable that afternoon.
Days after Matthews’ memo was published, a copy of an internal Army report on the Defense Department’s response on Jan. 6 surfaced. Matthews alleges that the March 18 internal report represents what Politico characterized as a “secretive attempt to whitewash the Army’s record on Jan. 6 and shift blame to the Capitol Police and Guard leaders, thus taking the focus off the Army’s own missteps.” Politico noted that this internal report was later shared with the inspector general.
Still, the inspector general ultimately concluded that the potential of bad optics created by sending the DCNG to the Capitol did not improperly delay the Defense Department’s response to the USCP’s RFA on Jan. 6. The report ends with recommendations for how the Pentagon responds to future incidents on Capitol Hill. Recommendations include upgrades to communications equipment and reviewing and codifying the procedures of the Defense Department when responding to civil disturbances.