Top Capitol security officials sacked after deadly riot
Three top security officials in Congress lost their jobs Thursday over the embarrassing and deadly security breach of the Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund will resign effective Jan. 16, before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to a police spokesperson. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for and received the resignation of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger effective Thursday. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving will be resigning after the Capitol was overrun Wednesday by a pro-Trump mob that even some Republicans are calling “domestic terrorists.”
Their departures came amid reports that a Capitol police officer was hospitalized in grave condition Thursday night. Four people have died in relation to the riots — one woman was shot and killed at the Capitol while three other individuals suffered separate medical emergencies.
Pelosi had called for Sund’s resignation earlier Thursday and said she has been unable to reach him; a spokeswoman for Sund said earlier he has no plans to step down.
McConnell said deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Jennifer Hemingway will take over as the interim leader of the Senate’s security and said Congress will “examine the serious failures that transpired yesterday and continue and strengthen our preparations for a safe and successful inauguration on January 20th.”
Earlier on Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he planned to fire Stenger as soon as Democrats take the majority on Jan. 20 if he was still in his post at the time.
McConnell said ultimate blame lies with “unhinged criminals” that desecrated the Capitol, but nonetheless suggested that the Congress would have to address the “shocking failures in the Capitol’s security posture and protocols.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a trusted Pelosi ally who chairs the committee in charge of Capitol security logistics, said Sund misled her about the security preparations for the Jan. 6. session.
Lofgren told reporters Thursday that the Capitol Police chief assured her that all contingencies were in place and “there was no doubt they were completely able to keep us secure in the Capitol.” The National Guard was at the ready, Lofgren said Sund told her.
“We were told it was all in place, it was all a go,” she said. “It was just not true. They had not been called.”
While Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were huddled together in a secure location during the riot, they made a frantic push to get more police on the scene. All of the “big four” congressional leaders hopped on the phone with the secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Army Secretary, and “many other officials,” according to Schumer.
“In the early moments, there were not enough forces there,” Schumer said at a press conference in New York. “And the question is, why weren’t they there in advance? And then why didn’t they get there ASAP? All of that needs a looking into.”
“How could they fail so miserably? We’re 20 years from 9/11. Yesterday they could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could have destroyed the government,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said those who breached the Capitol are “domestic terrorists” and not patriots. “Warning shots should have been fired. Lethal force should have been used once they penetrated the seat of government.”
The next test of Capitol security is coming immediately, with Biden’s inauguration fewer than two weeks away. Senate Rules Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who oversees the inauguration, said “You want to take one more really hard look at what you thought your crowd security concerns might be for Jan. 20.”
Graham briefly but pointedly dressed down sergeant-at-arms staff about the unprecedented security breach in the Capitol on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. He also said Thursday that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was pushing for a more forceful response.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), the House Democrat who oversees funding for the Capitol police, told reporters there would be swift fallout from the deadly security breach.
Ryan praised the rank-and-file Capitol police for doing “everything they could” to hold back the mob but said higher ranking officials will be taken to task and likely fired. At least 15 police officers were hospitalized due to the chaos with one in critical condition, according to Ryan.
“For us not to have an expeditious plan — the breach happened at 1 hour and 15 minutes of the Capitol police being able to hold off the mob,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate, said “we need a full investigation on how the Capitol’s security was breached this quickly.”
“Inside that building yesterday were the top three people in the line of succession to become president and it took nearly three hours for any Department of Defense response to arrive at the Capitol,” Murphy said. “Why are we spending $700 billion on the military every year if the military can’t effectively defend the United States Capitol from attack?”
The House floor was buzzing with talk of immediate firings Wednesday night as lawmakers gathered to restart certification of Biden’s victory. Lawmakers did not coalesce around a specific plan but generally agreed that there needed to be swift leadership changes both within the Capitol Police, including Sund, and the Sergeant-at-Arms offices, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.
Ryan and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Thursday announced an investigation of the Capitol Police failures that led to Wednesday’s mob-rule.
Rioters stormed the Capitol, crashing through glass windows and busting down doors, invading some of the most secure areas of the Capitol, including the Senate chamber and Pelosi’s office. Ryan said he was disturbed by videos from Wednesday that appeared to show Capitol police opening the barriers to allow the rioters onto Capitol grounds and then later freely leave the Capitol after destroying it.
During other moments like Trump’s impeachment or the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the security and law enforcement presence inside the building was pronounced, but at times on Thursday there were barren halls turned over to the rioters. And not until the trespassers were expelled from the Capitol did the number of officers reach overwhelming levels.
“It was unfathomable,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told MetroNews in West Virginia on Thursday. “I think it was the lowest day.”
Kyle Cheney, Marianne LeVine, Sarah Ferris and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.