Miscommunication and confusion led to National Guard troops being pushed out of Capitol
Posted January 22, 2021 5:30 p.m. EST
CNN — A series of miscommunications around an unprecedented security situation left National Guard troops searching for an adequate rest area Thursday night when they were moved from the Capitol into a nearby parking garage.
Guard members ended up having to spend several hours Thursday night resting on the concrete in the parking garage before the mistake was fixed and they were moved back to the Capitol.
The exact chain of events that led to the Guard members moving to the garage is unclear, and by Friday afternoon a series of conflicting explanations and finger pointing only added to the confusion about why the troops were given the impression they were no longer welcome in the Capitol even as their job of protecting it is ongoing.
The resulting confusion and finger-pointing was impressive even for Washington. The National Guard was quick to blame Capitol Police as the authority that directed their troops to vacate the premises Thursday night, but Capitol Police immediately and forcefully denied any involvement. By Friday afternoon, the two units had put out a joint statement seeking to resolve the conflict, but that missive still left unanswered the question of who gave the initial order to move.
According to one source with the Administrative Office of the Courts, an agency that occupies the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary building where the garage is located, it was the National Guard that decided to use the parking garage after being shown the facility on January 19.
According to a source in the Senate Rules Committee, plans were made to move the resting locations for Guard troops out of the Capitol during the heightened security days around the Inauguration. The committee set up alternative accommodations for the troops to move into office buildings during that time frame with the expectation that they would be able to return on Thursday.
But a breakdown of communication appears to have occurred during discussions of how to recreate designated spaces for troops on Capitol grounds.
Several sources on the Senate Rules Committee confirmed the committee held a staff call on Thursday evening to discuss future plans for the troops. According to the Rules Committee aide, the goal was for the troops to be accommodated in the Capitol Visitor's Center instead of Senate space in the Capitol Complex so that those offices could be used for Senate business starting Monday.
Even though relocation was being discussed, an aide on the Rules Committee told CNN there was never a request issued to completely remove the troops from the complex.
"The Rules Committee has always understood that there would be National Guard troops located in the Senate Office Buildings until the end of their mission," the aide said.
Still, the National Guard maintains they were instructed to leave by the USCP.
"The National Guard continues to assist and support the US Capitol Police. As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area," to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage, the National Guard Bureau said in their initial statement around 7 p.m. ET Thursday.
On Friday the National Guard released another statement to say that all troops have returned to using Capitol buildings for their break areas and that they had been informed that the initial request for them to relocate "was made without the knowledge of the Congressional members."
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe claimed that a single officer made the call without checking with his superior on the Senate floor Friday.
"This is what happened. There was one uniformed police officer who issued an order, without authority or without going through the chain of command" Inhofe said. "We are going to be able to identify who that person was, we'll make that publicly."
Inhofe, who said he has spoken to acting Chief of Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman and Chief of Staff of the Army James McConville about the situation added "this isn't a blame game. But I do want to know what happened to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Statements from the National Guard, Capitol Police and the Sergeants at Arms in both the House and Senate have all denied that they were the ones that gave the order.
"I want to assure everyone that, with the exception of specific times on Inauguration Day itself while the swearing-in ceremonies were underway, the United States Capitol Police did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Building facilities" Pittman said in a statement.
A House aide familiar with Capitol Police also refuted the accusation that the guidance to move troops out of the Capitol came from a Capitol Police officer, saying, "Obviously we're reviewing that but there was no directive given to the National Guard to move, they did that on their own volition."
This aide instead suggested that the National Guard misinterpreted an offer from a judicial office building for more space as an order to vacate from Capitol Grounds. The aide told CNN that an individual from a judicial office building where the National Guard ended up, known as the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, offered use of their facilities as extra space to the National Guard that the source says the National Guard misinterpreted as an order to vacate Capitol grounds and relocate.
"That's what my understanding of what happened, is that somebody reached out directly to the National Guard, probably should have gone to the Capitol Police or the architect of the Capitol to do that, and then the National Guard moved," the source told CNN. "What our understanding is this guy tried to be helpful, and offer up some space and, and somehow that was misconstrued as an order to leave."
As lawmakers demand answers around who ordered the National Guard troops to be moved late Thursday, discussions are also underway about how to prevent similar problems from arising going forward, a source familiar with those talks told CNN.
In the days immediately following the January 6 attack, there was a scramble to find hotel rooms for the influx of National Guard members pouring into Washington. A state official acknowledged at the time that "suddenly finding hotel rooms for 6,000+ guard members in the middle of a pandemic is a monumental task" but that DC quickly provided lodging.
While every National Guard member currently in Washington has a hotel room and a bed to sleep in, that does not minimize the issue that arose last night, the source said.
One issue currently being discussed is the fact that Guard members are currently working on 12-hour shifts with short rest periods in between. This means that it does not make sense for them to drive back to their hotel rooms, the source said, noting that lawmakers are currently discussing the possibility of shortening those rotations to eight-hour shifts in order to allow the Guard members more time to return to their hotels.