The other scandal of the Capitol riot
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has shown the outrage of many citizens when he declared the Capitol riot to be the Pearl Harbor for this era that “will live forever in infamy.” It was certainly infamous but several doubt whether these two tragic events can truly be compared, given the 2,400 Americans killed in the attack that forced the country to enter into World War Two. But part of the issue for Pearl Harbor was that the United States was warned about it and failed to take precautions.
History may show that, due to a lack of preparations, the Capitol riot was indeed a modern day Pearl Harbor. Many Americans are familiar with the negligence of the military leaders of Pearl Harbor after being warned to expect an attack. Planes on the aircraft carriers were parked wingtip to wingtip, no torpedo nets were deployed, and the battleship row was so full that it would be hard for a dive bomber to miss a target.
Moreover, it was the third such attack on the base. In 1932, United States Admiral Harry Yarnell carried out almost the same attack to demonstrate the real vulnerability of Pearl Harbor, using aircraft carriers, radio silence, radar evasion, and similar basic routes. He even conducted the attack on a Sunday when he knew the Navy would be most off guard. Another mock aircraft carrier attack in 1938 also produced similar results.
Like these events for Pearl Harbor, the Capitol is trained for protests and breaches. Law enforcement has been on edge due to violent protests in Washington last summer, including one that had forced the first family to shelter briefly in the White House bunker. So as the Capitol riot unfolded, many of us had just been amazed by the ease of the breach.
Any issues, however, were shoved aside by the second impeachment of Donald Trump. Democrats insisted this was an actual insurrection led by him. House leaders refused to hold one single hearing before their snap impeachment and refused to call witnesses for weeks before the Senate trial to confirm facts on the warnings before the Capitol riot.
Few facts have been confirmed but they raise troubling issues. Congress was warned of possible violence last month by the administration and law enforcement agencies. A National Guard presence was offered before but declined. Though large crowds were expected, Capitol police deployed a small force with roughly 1,800 officers facing off more than 8,000 rioters. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser had limited the National Guard presence before the protests to help out with traffic control.
We also have some contradictions on the record. Resigned Capitol police chief Steven Sund stated he asked for National Guard troops six times but was denied the support. He said House sergeant at arms Paul Irving felt it would be bad optics. With demanding Sund to step down, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said he has not called “since this happened” but Sund insists he briefed her twice the day of the riot. There are also accounts of a delay for additional support as Capitol police waited for approval.
Sund and Senate sergeant at arms Michael Stenger were forced to resign with other officials. So they may be the riot versions of Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short, the two commanders held accountable for the Pearl Harbor disaster, despite rumors that powerful officials in Washington shared responsibility with the attack. Years later, the Senate would vote to clear their names for the calamity.
Pelosi added to concerns with her pick of retired General Russel Honore to lead an investigation into security at the Capitol. She did not consult others, and few Republicans would have supported her choice, because Honore was a critic of Trump and other Republicans. He swiftly reached conclusions on the attack that paralleled the views of Pelosi.
For an interview two days after the attack, without any facts for support, Honore said there were “complicit actions by Capitol police” and “people need to go to jail.” He also condemned Sund and wrote that Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz should be run out of town with their “high order white privilege” for allegedly supporting the riot. All this from the man that Pelosi has appointed to conduct an unbiased review.
For many Americans, that may be unnecessary. The second impeachment drilled home a narrative to blame Trump. Pelosi said he should be charged as an accessory to murder all “because he instigated that insurrection that caused those deaths and this destruction.” Ultimately, if framing scandals in Washington is an art, then Pelosi is our resident Rembrandt.
None of this would relieve Trump of his own responsibility. I condemned his address to the crowd and his reckless role in the riot. But there is also now sufficient evidence to suggest the vulnerabilities were really due to Congress itself. Schumer may be right that the day will live in infamy yet few in Washington are eager to confirm the list of who is liable.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law with George Washington University. He was called by House Republicans as a witness in the impeachment hearings for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and has also consulted Senate Republicans on the legal precedents of impeachment in advance of the latest trial. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.