For anyone who watched the second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, there was a theme that was echoed throughout the duration of the trial. These questions centered on what Trump was doing up to, during, and after the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. The House impeachment managers repeatedly asked “Where was Trump?” and “Why didn’t Trump do anything?”
So, let’s consider that. Why didn’t Trump march troops into the Capitol Building to quell the riot? It should be noted at the outset that this is a loaded question. The question itself assumes that Trump is the one responsible for security at the Capitol and/or should be the person to determine whether or not the Capitol security forces require assistance.
Is either of those assumptions true? This article will examine which security forces had jurisdiction in and around the Capitol building and which specific parties failed to maintain that security both before and during the riot.
The Separation of Powers and Security for Each Branch of Government
This article must start out by dispelling some erroneous beliefs regarding the security of the Capitol Building. There is an assumption that the president, as the head of the executive branch of government, would be in charge of security about the Capitol and would be the logical person in charge of placing additional security forces. This is wrong.
Though security would seem to be a function that would be provided exclusively by the executive branch of government, it is not. If each branch did not provide its own security, this would violate the doctrine of the separation of powers. If the Supreme Court and Congress were dependent upon the president for their security, that would create a dangerous dependency that could easily be exploited by the president to coerce the cooperation of the other branches.
Instead, each branch of government provides for its own security. To illustrate this, let’s consider who is responsible for security at the Supreme Court. As stated, each branch would provide this security for itself. Therefore, our highest court, which embodies the federal judicial power, is protected by the Supreme Court Police. This may come as a surprise to readers, but this makes sense within the context of the separation of powers.
Likewise, let’s consider who provides security for the White House. That security falls to the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service (formerly called the White House Police Force). Again, each branch provides for its own security.
At this point, you’ve probably already guessed that the federal legislative branch has its own security force. That is correct, though not widely reported. Who provides security for the House of Representatives and the Senate? Primary jurisdiction for the security of the members of Congress and congressional buildings and property throughout the Capitol Complex falls to the U.S. Capitol Police Department. Its mission statement: “Protect the Congress—its Members, employees, visitors, and facilities—so it can fulfill its constitutional and legislative responsibilities in a safe, secure and open environment.”
The Capitol Police Department is literally the legislative branch police. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has jurisdiction throughout the D.C. area, and also has concurrent jurisdiction in the Capitol area. They have an overlapping, but secondary jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds. The existence of police departments for separate offices and departments goes further than the division between the branches of government. We could discuss the separate security forces within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and separate police forces for each branch of the military.
The main point to be taken here is that the U.S. Congress has its own police department with primary jurisdiction within the Capitol complex, and this police force has been protecting Congress for nearly 200 years. This simple fact seems to have been glossed over when people are asking about former President Trump’s response (or lack thereof) to the D.C. riot.
Congress knows that they have their own police force. There is no way that this could have been forgotten. When enquiring into the insufficiency of security forces, the very first place that Congress should look is to themselves. On top of that, there were many other forces and resources in place to deal with this situation. This lack of security should never have happened.
On Jan. 6, 2021, former President Trump gave a speech at the Ellipse, which is located near the White House. After this speech, many of the protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building. The riot and subsequent breach occurred in the Capitol complex at the Capitol Building.
Who has primary jurisdiction at the Capitol Building (where the breach occurred)?
As discussed above, the U.S. Capitol Police Department (CPD) has primary jurisdiction at the Capitol Building and other congressional buildings around the Capitol complex. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department had secondary jurisdiction to provide any needed support.
Did CPD have advance notice that there would likely be violence at the Capitol Building? Yes. In fact, the former Police Chief of the Capitol Police Department, Steven Sund, requested additional security forces on Jan. 4, two full days before the riot. Such a request for additional security from the national guard would require the approval of Sund’s superiors, the sergeant-at-arms of the House, and the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate. It should be noted that the House sergeant-at-arms reports to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader. If either of the sergeants-at-arms were unsure as to whether additional security was needed, they would undoubtedly check with their immediate superiors.
If additional security was requested, why did it take so long for them to arrive?
Sund ultimately requested additional security from his superiors six times. His first request was on Jan. 4, two days before the riot. Each of these requests was denied or delayed. Sund also described a conference call that took place with the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader. Regardless, one would think that the sergeants-at-arms would have briefed their superiors over the multiple requests for additional security. The only other logical explanation would be that the sergeants-at-arms were already operating under standing orders from their superiors.
Why didn’t the president send in additional security forces? Congress is already protected by the Capitol Police Department, which consists of more than 2,000 people. Further, Congress has the authority to request additional security any time if needed. They don’t need to wait for the president to protect them. It would be inappropriate for the president to unilaterally march security forces into the congressional buildings. If he had done so, we definitely would have been hearing stories about what a dictator Trump is for ignoring the jurisdiction of the House and Senate. The question remains, why were Sund’s multiple requests for additional security denied, and which leaders were aware of these requests and denials?
Who is ultimately responsible for the insufficient security and loss of life at the Capitol? The ex-chief of the Capitol Police requested multiple times from his superiors that the National Guard be mobilized to provide additional security. Why did the House sergeant-at-arms and the Senate sergeant-at-arms deny Sund’s multiple requests? When did the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader learn of the security requests and the intelligence supporting those requests? What were their roles and why was the additional security denied?
The speaker of the House and the former Senate majority leader is ultimately trying to deflect blame onto someone else. The House impeachment managers and the House speaker have repeatedly asked, “Where was Trump during the riot?” and “Why didn’t he do anything to stop the riot?” It was the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms that allowed the breach to happen by not approving requests for additional security. The speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader knew about the need for additional security as Steven Sund has indicated that they were on a conference call discussing his multiple requests.
After the riot, Pelosi called for Sund’s resignation. The House and Senate also called for the resignation of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms. They’ve called for the resignation of the only security officials with direct knowledge as to why the multiple requests for additional security were denied. A suspicious person might say it appears that the speaker of the House and the former Senate majority leader is trying to cover up their responsibility and failure to protect the Capitol. A more cautious person, not ready to assign blame just yet, would want to investigate this security failure and the roles played by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader as well as each sergeant-at-arms.
The events of Jan. 6, 2021, were nothing short of tragic. What’s worse is that this tragedy likely could have been avoided if those responsible for security had simply done their jobs.
This disaster is either a case of malfeasance at the highest level of congress, or it was a deliberate attempt to escalate a conflict for political gain. Either way, the Capitol Police Department and everyone at the Capitol that day deserved better. If there is blood on anyone’s hands, it’s on the people who multiple times prevented additional security from being deployed to the Capitol in anticipation of violence that they suspected and which intelligence supported.
There must be an official investigation as to how and why this happened. The House speaker, the House sergeant-at-arms, the Senate majority leader, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, and the ex-chief of the Capitol Police Department should all be thoroughly questioned as to the events leading up to and culminating in the Jan. 6 riot and breach of the capitol. The American public deserves to know.