What actually happened amongst the Army’s leadership on January 6 during the crucial three hours between when then the U.S. Capitol was breached by a pro-Trump mob and when the grounds were secured?
Short answer: We still don’t know.
On one hand, we have current House Sergeant at Arms Maj. Gen. William Walker, who was then commanding general of the DC National Guard, and his then-Army counsel Col. Earl Matthews saying, in an explosive, new 36-page memo to the January 6 Committee that the DC National Guard was prevented from quickly deploying to the Capitol and that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was strangely incommunicado during that time period.
And on the other hand, Army leadership says they spent those agonizing hours creating a plan for a Guard mobilization that McCarthy had to twice call upon Walker to implement.
Yet Walker and Matthews say that these supposed calls from McCarthy never took place and that they never saw the plan that Army leadership supposedly produced. When the Guard finally got the go-ahead to move, they claim, it followed its own plans as it intended in the first place.
So, what really happened? Who is lying? And why?
For starters: Walker’s and Matthew’s view is largely backed by previous testimony from Walker as well as other key officials, such as Robert Contee and Steven Sund, who served, respectively, as Metropolitan Police Department Chief and the United States Capitol Police Chief on January 6.
For their part, the Army brass’s version of events relies largely on a November 2021 Department of Defense Inspector General Report which said Department of Defense officials acted “appropriately” on January 6.
And these two sets of accounts diverge on several key points, most strikingly, McCarthy’s supposed communication and direction to Walker.
Here is what we know for sure:
Sund started making urgent phone calls at 1:49 p.m. on January 6, informing various officials that the Capitol was under attack and assistance was needed.
A planning call was organized for 2:30 p.m. to which Walker, Contee, Sund—and McCarthy—were invited.
Matthews states that McCarthy did not attend this call because he had gone to see the Acting of Defense Secretary Chris Miller.
But the DoDIG claims something different: Unnamed “witnesses” in the report say that McCarthy was on the call for five minutes. Regardless of what McCarthy did or didn’t do, there seems to be agreement that representing Army leadership on the call were Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, (director of the Army Staff) and Lieutenant General Charles Flynn (the Army’s deputy chief of staff for Operations).
Walker, Matthews, Contee, and Sund all say that on the 2:30 p.m. phone call both Flynn—who is the brother of disgraced Trump former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn—and Piatt expressed concern over the “optics” of sending in the National Guard to the Capitol.
The DoDIG states:
Mr. Sund told us that during the conference call, LTG Piatt commented on the “optics of [the] National Guard standing in line with the Capitol in the background,” and that he [LTG Piatt] “would rather relieve your [USCP] officers off traffic posts” so the officers could respond to the Capitol.
The DCHSEMA Director told us that either LTG Piatt or LTG Flynn said it would not look good to have Soldiers confront “peaceful protesters.” Chief Contee told us that an Army official commented on the “optics” of having “boots on the ground” at the Capitol.
MG Walker stated that LTG Piatt and LTG Flynn said they would not advise Mr. McCarthy to send Guardsmen to the Capitol; it would not be a good optic and could incite the crowd.
Yet when Flynn and Piatt testified to Congress earlier this year, they claimed that they did not say such things about “optics.”
Regardless of whatever Flynn and Piatt did or did not say about optics, it was the expressed belief of Flynn and Piatt that it would be better to have the Guard relieve law enforcement officers of their stations away from the Capitol building so that law enforcement could then move to secure the Capitol itself. Walker maintained that the Guard should simply get to the Capitol and coordinate there with law enforcement and surge wherever was needed.
Matthews writes that what followed was this:
Chief Contee then stated that he would inform the Mayor (D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser) that the Army was refusing to send the National Guard to the Capitol and that he would ask her to convene a press conference to make this refusal known. LTG Piatt then asked Chief Contee to please not do this. Piatt stated that the request for Guard presence was not being refused and he had no power to deny or approve the request, only that he would not recommend approval to his civilian leadership. Piatt and Flynn recommended that Contee identify locations away from the Capitol where D.C. National Guard personnel could relieve MPD personnel of traffic duties, allowing more MPD personnel to surge to the Capitol.
Which gives us a pretty clear view of how Walker, Matthews, Contee, and Sund viewed the Army’s position, as relayed by the two generals, Flynn and Piatt.
And yet the Army says something odd about its own position in the DoDIG report.
Page 54 of the DoDIG report states that the Army secretary, McCarthy, did in fact meet with the acting Defense secretary, Miller, at 2:30 p.m. And this part of the report claims that during the meeting, McCarthy told Miller that the “DCNG needed to mobilize everything and move to the Capitol as quickly as possible, and Mr. Miller immediately agreed” and that “Miller ordered McCarthy to mobilize all of the DCNG’s 1,100 personnel at approximately 3:04 p.m.”
If true, this would mean that Army generals Flynn and Piatt were telling Contee they would not recommend approval to send National Guard troops at the same time that McCarthy was suggesting sending National Guard troops and the acting SecDef was agreeing and then formally ordering him to do so.
In other words: If this is true, then everyone was in agreement that the National Guard needed to move in quickly.
And yet it didn’t.
How could that be?
Well, McCarthy says that there was “tremendous confusion” and that Miller also told him to “Get a plan. Put it all together, and then go.” McCarthy, apparently, took that as a request not to send in the National Guard, but to produce a plan to send in the National Guard.
McCarthy, in other words, would have us believe that when he was ordered to mobilize, he interpreted this as an order to plan a mobilization and then bring it back to the acting SecDef for approval.
Here Matthews making this explicit:
Miller claims he gave McCarthy full discretion to employ the DCNG in force to the Capitol at 3:04 p.m. For some reason, however, McCarthy felt the need to go back to Miller to report a so-called plan of deployment.
But from here, McCarthy’s story only gets more confusing.
Page 56 of the DoDIG report says McCarthy called Walker at approximately 3:05 p.m. and asked Walker to move Guard personnel to the Armory and draft a “hasty” plan to support law enforcement at the Capitol—which is close to what Flynn and Piatt wanted. An unnamed “witness” said McCarthy and Walker discussed the logistics of moving Guard personnel and a quick reaction force from JFA to the Armory.
The problem? Matthews says this call never happened.
He wrote that Walker “categorically denies that Secretary McCarthy called him at 3:05 p.m.” Moreover, Walker said that he had already moved a quick reaction force to the Armory “on his own initiative” before 3:05 p.m. and at that time, was on a video conference with Piatt, Flynn, and other Army leaders.
“MG Walker would have of course prioritized a call from the Secretary of the Army, his direct and immediate superior if it had come, but it did not,” Matthews stated.
What happened next at the Army?
The report states that Mayor Bowser’s office told the media that Piatt had denied the Capitol Police’s request for assistance and “McCarthy then spent the next 25 minutes calling and speaking with leading Members of Congress, the news media, and Mayor Bowser, correcting inaccurate reports” and telling them about his plan to mobilize the Guard. McCarthy then, again, “dealt with news media inquiries” and left the Pentagon at 3:48 p.m. to travel to Metropolitan Police Department headquarters to discuss where the National Guard would go with Mayor Bowser and Chief Contee.
It is not clear why McCarthy was fielding media calls and driving into DC during such a pivotal moment. The Defense Department investigators, for whatever reason, deemed these managerial choices to be “appropriate.”
The DoDIG report states that McCarthy presented his plan—which would have the Guard “meet and follow MPD to conduct perimeter security and clearance operations”—to acting SecDef Miller at 4:30 p.m.
At 4:35 p.m., the DoDIG report claims that McCarthy called Walker again, this time to direct him to immediately move all available National Guard personnel from the Armory.
Walker and Matthews say that call never took place, either.
Someone is lying. Not shading the truth, or doing Talmudic readings, but outright lying.
So who is it?
In his memo, Matthews points out a glaring omission from the DoDIG report: “between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., before DCNG personnel had deployed to the Capitol, McCarthy spent nearly 20 minutes in a live nationally televised press conference with Mayor Bowser and Chief Contee.” It can be viewed here.
During that time, the Pentagon report says McCarthy also phoned Maryland Governor Larry Hogan at 4:40 p.m., which is documented in many news reports. Notably, Hogan said he was “baffled” why there was such a long delay in sending Maryland National Guardsmen to the Capitol. There is no documentary evidence to prove that McCarthy called Walker.
Instead, page 61 of the report merely says that an unnamed “aide” said that McCarthy had to reissue the “same ‘go’ order” to Walker again at 5:00 p.m.
And against this unnamed aide’s second-hand claim, we have Walker and Matthews, on the record and under oath, saying that Walker was never called.
“As he stated in sworn testimony, MG Walker became aware of the approval to deploy DCNG personnel during a video teleconference with senior Army officials at 5:08 p.m. The decision of civilian leadership was conveyed by the CSA, General James McConville,” Matthews wrote. “The notion that MG Walker had to be told twice to deploy forces to the Capitol is as insulting as it is false.”
At 5:08 p.m., over 150 Guardsmen were deployed and at approximately 6:00 p.m. they moved to work alongside law enforcement on the Capitol grounds where they engaged in pushing back on the crowd until approximately 7:25 p.m.
At 8:00 p.m., Capitol Police declared the building secure.
Thousands of Guardsmen later flowed into the city and protected the Capitol in the ensuing days.
It’s hard to understand how there could be such a clear, factual disagreement about evidence as basic and trackable as phone calls, mobilization plans, and authorization between the secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, and the commanding general of the DC National Guard, William Walker.
It is likewise hard to understand exactly what McCarthy was doing that day by participating in a press conference and taking calls from the media in the middle of the crisis. Or why he interpreted an order to mobilize as an order to present a plan for mobilization. Are these the marks of incompetence, or panic, or something else?
And finally, why did the DoDIG rely so heavily on unnamed persons for its report? Who are these unnamed people and why are their names protected? Especially when their claims are specifically and factually being contested by the principals in writing and under oath.
Why is the office of the DODIG not curious about whether or not these unnamed sources told them the truth?
The answers to these questions are discoverable because so many people have intimate knowledge of what happened. Phone records could, conceivably, be obtained. Documents produced.
It just took what Matthews saw as a bogus DoD report that smeared his boss for him to fire off 36-pages for the committee, all of which are begging to be corroborated. And it seems possible—maybe even likely—that there are others like Matthews, waiting to testify if asked.
It’s important not to lose sight of the big question in all of this:
Why did it take the government more than three hours to put down the pro-Trump mob that attacked our Capitol?
This wasn’t a regular “protest”—although this is what the DoDIG labels the event in the title of its report. There was a protest, yes. And there was also a riot. But there was a third action that day which goes beyond either: An explicit intent to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power by preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president. And this third action was, depending on your preferred terminology, either an insurrection or domestic terrorism.
And the elephant in the room is that totally absent from all of these accounts is the actual commander-in-chief, President Donald J. Trump, for whom the mob was fighting. Why is he invisible in the accounting of what decisions were being made that day?
The January 6 Committee is the last, best hope to adjudicate these questions. And Matthews, as laid out over 36-pages, is determined to tell his version of events.
The Pentagon didn’t even interview this key man, but he clearly wants to be heard.
Let’s get the record right.
And then hold people accountable for what they did and for what lies they’ve told.