Trump, who has proven over the past year to be eager to deploy the National Guard when violence breaks out, initially resisted doing so on Capitol Hill Wednesday as a mob of his supporters breached the building, per a source familiar. Pence played a key role in coordinating with the Pentagon about deploying them, and urged them to move faster than they were.
The news raises questions about who was acting as commander in chief on one of America’s darkest days, which saw the country’s legislature overrun for the first time since the British attacked and burned the building in August 1814.
The Trump administration, earlier this week, said that civilian law enforcement would be tasked with protection of federal facilities but the Department of Defense received requests for additional support from the National Guard Wednesday as the situation became increasingly dangerous, a senior defense official told CNN.
As the chaos unfolded, doubts were raised about whether Trump would order the DC National Guard to respond due to the slowness of the response. Public statements by acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and other top officials suggested it was Pence who ultimately approved the decision. Miller’s statement Wednesday seems to indicate he did not even speak with Trump, discussing the matter with his deputy instead as sources told CNN the President was reluctant to even denounce the violence being carried out in his name.
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sidestepped questions Wednesday night about whether Pence, not Trump, directed the DC National Guard to be activated but suggested the vice president ultimately approved the decision.
Asked by Fox News about reporting that Pence, not the President, approved the activation, McCarthy demurred, but ultimately said: “I know the vice president has been in constant contact with us and also along with security inside the Capitol, I communicated with the vice president early on. It was in regards to getting the National Guard there. He said he will call right now.”
The comments appeared to conflict with what White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a tweet hours earlier, when she asserted that Trump “directed” the National Guard to respond to the situation.
Pence spoke with defense secretary and top general
Miller also confirmed that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, spoke with Pence, not Trump, on Wednesday afternoon. He also said he was in contact with top congressional lawmakers.
“Chairman Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation,” he said in a statement.
“We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly,” he said.
The National guard was not fully activated until hours after the violent mob descended on the capitol.
Under that agreement, National Guard forces did not have orders to provide protection to federal facilities. Top military commanders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were determined to keep active duty military out of that effort and limit the role of the national guard, several defense officials say.
The Pentagon’s long-standing focus has been to show that civil law enforcement and state activated national guard are sufficient to control civil unrest.
‘A little bit of confusion’
In a statement Wednesday evening, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that earlier in the week, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser “requested approximately 340 D.C. National Guardsmen to assist D.C. police in preparation for possible protests today.”
“That request was approved. Today, the mayor requested the full activation of the D.C. Guard to support local and federal law enforcement as they respond to the situation at the Capitol. That request was approved. There have been no other requests from the D.C. government,” he said.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy acknowledged there was a “little bit of confusion” with regard to the additional request.
“But as we worked through it, we ultimately made the determination about a half hour later to mobilize the entire DC National Guard. So, this has been incredibly fluid. But I have to go through the Secretary of Defense ultimately to get the final approval to mobilize personnel as well as to conduct operations in cooperation, in coordination with local authorities,” he said.
A source familiar with the situation said White House staffers are “horrified” by the violence at the Capitol and are worried there will be more trouble on the streets Wednesday evening.
“He doesn’t want to” do more than what he is doing right now, the adviser said.
“If we could throw him to the angry mob, we’d throw him to the angry mob now,” the adviser said.
CNN’s Pamela Brown contributed to this report.