Top Capitol security officials can’t answer for communications failures

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Two of the top acting Capitol security officials failed to answer questions during a grilling from a House Republican lawmaker on critical communications lapses during the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot during a Thursday hearing on the Hill.

Acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett and acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman both struggled during their appearance before the House Appropriations Committee as part of Congress’ broader probe into the siege to answer Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-Wash.) questions.

Herrera Beutler began her questioning by asking Blodgett about internal communication between different law enforcement agencies, and within those individual forces, leaving officers to fend for themselves with no clear instructions coming in.

Blodgett acknowledged it was a problem, though he did not say if the issue was being worked on.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

“Yes that is something we need to fix and we need to fix it immediately. I believe the chief acknowledged in her statement that and I don’t want to speak for the acting chief, but that communication needs to be enhanced. It drives either out of the command center or the incident command post, wherever that is set up, in terms of that,” the acting Sergeant-at-Arms replied.

“In terms of the communication with my staff — with the Sergeant-at-Arms — we don’t control the Capitol police radios. While we have the radios and can hear what is or is not going on, we do not interject during a crisis. We communicate with our staff via cell phone, text message and we were in close contact,” he continued.

Timothy Blodgett, Acting House Sergeant at Arms was asked about internal communication issues with the Capitol police force, but did not provide an answer.
Timothy Blodgett, acting House Sergeant at Arms, was asked about internal communication issues with the Capitol police force, but did not provide an answer.
Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images

Asked if the House Sergeant-at-Arms was in charge of security for the House floor, Blodgett replied, “We are there to enforce the rules of the House, to work in conjunction with the Capitol Police, to make sure that it’s safe. We had staff on the floor and in the galleries as well.”

Blodgett was then asked to explain why the Senate was being evacuated for multiple minutes while House lawmakers were told to remain on the chamber floor, specifically if that meant there was no plan for evacuation.

“Yes. We had the office of Sergeant-at-Arms put together a plan for evacuating the House floor. The tactical decision to evacuate would be left to the Capitol Police because at the command center they can see what’s going on throughout the campus. We don’t have eyes on that.”

Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington on Feb. 2, 2021.
Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington on Feb. 2, 2021.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool

Herrera Beutler then turned to Pittman asking her for what insight she could provide through her department.

“So as it relates to communications, US Capitol Police has practiced routine drills, if you will, for the incident command system since the Sept. 11 incident,” Pittman began. “On Jan. 6, our incident command protocols were not adhered to as they should have.”

Asked to explain why by Herrera Beutler, Pittman explained there was an “operational order” within the structure of the police itself, which “designates who is in charge of what for your incident command structure.”

According to Pittman, the force on the ground could not get instruction from leadership because “those operational commanders at the time were so overwhelmed, they started to participate and assist the officers with boots on the ground versus providing that guidance and direction.

The hearings come one day after Blodgett and Pittman’s predecessors testified on their handling of the lead up to the deadly attack, which led to both of their resignations.

Lawmakers are currently in the midst of weeks of hearings into the siege.

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