More than two months after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, the American public is still without answers to key questions about how the Trump administration responded — or potentially delayed responding — to the disturbing events of Jan. 6. On Tuesday, American Oversight sued multiple agencies for records that will finally reveal more information about what went on behind the scenes as a heavily armed mob, spurred on by then-President Donald Trump, sought to prevent the certification of the 2020 election.
Tuesday’s lawsuit seeks records of emails and text messages, as well as any directives or orders, sent or received by top officials on the day of the attack — communications that could provide important insight into how those officials reacted to the rapidly escalating violence on Capitol Hill. American Oversight had requested the records under the Freedom of Information Act less than a week after the event, and is now taking the agencies to court for failing to respond.
The Jan. 6 attempted insurrection took place immediately following a rally at which Trump, in furtherance of his dangerous lie that widespread voter fraud had stolen the election from him, told his supporters to “fight like hell” to get their “country back.” At the Capitol, Congress was meeting to certify the electoral votes for President Joe Biden, a process that was delayed because of the riot.
Many of the Trump supporters who descended on the Capitol were heavily armed, with extremist groups, right-wing militias, and conspiracy theorists well represented among the participants. In the weeks since, through the course of startling videos, congressional hearings, and criminal complaints, a picture has emerged of a well-coordinated and openly planned attack that raises alarming questions about intelligence failures preceding Jan. 6 and even the potential complicity of certain government officials.
American Oversight has been investigating those questions as it seeks accountability for what amounted to an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. But we are also looking into the delay in the deployment of National Guard troops to assist the heavily outnumbered Capitol Police, including allegations that the Pentagon slow-walked requests for deployment authorization and reports that the president himself was reluctant to mobilize D.C.’s units.
During a March 3 hearing, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, told senators that the Defense Department took more than three hours to approve deployment. His account echoed testimony provided the week before by former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund that described Pentagon leadership as being overly concerned with the “optics” of troops arriving at the Capitol.
On Jan. 11, we filed FOIA requests with the Department of Defense, the Army, and the National Guard Bureau, as well as with the Justice Department and the U.S. Secret Service, for related communications sent or received by key officials, such as Walker, then acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, and then Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. We also asked for any directives, guidance, or orders — such as the potential or actual deployment of National Guard troops — to shed light on official actions that were taken the week before or during the attack. Those records are essential to a public understanding of how the federal government prepared for and responded to one of the worst crises of democracy our country has yet faced.
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