Ryan: ‘Real Concerns’ about Capitol Police Leadership after Breach

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said there were “real concerns” about the decision-making by U.S. Capitol Police leadership in response to the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, but stopped short of calling for the firing of acting Chief Yogananda Pittman. 

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, spoke with reporters following a hearing Thursday on the security failures the day of the riot. He is chairman of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, which conducted the hearing.

“It was a complete failure of leadership when you look at the lack of equipment, when you look at the lack of communication. Information flows were terrible, never making their way up the ladder to acting Chief Pittman in her previous capacity,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to continue to try to learn from the mistakes that were made.”

During the hearing, which ran more than 2 1/2 hours, committee members heard from Pittman and acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett.

“There’s some real questions about the decision-making that was made,” Ryan told reporters, but he added that the decision about whether the department needed new leadership was “above my pay grade.” 

The Capitol Police force is already transitioning from the leadership of former Chief Stephen Sund, who resigned following the assault on the Capitol as Congress met to certify the votes of the 2020 presidential election.

But Pittman “was there that day” as assistant chief. “So she has some responsibility,” Ryan said, adding that Sund appeared to have the right instincts but failed to push the Capitol Police Board – which he referred to as a “relic” – hard enough to call for support sooner. The board is composed of three members: the Sergeant at Arms of each the House and Senate and the Architect of the Capitol. 

“We need to reconsider how we govern security here,” although steps are now being taken in the right direction, he said. 

Ryan noted it’s been difficult to get information from the Capitol Police Board and has encouraged greater transparency, and acknowledged the possibility of including language in appropriations legislation to require more transparency. He further acknowledged the need for more funding to increase manpower to respond to “the new reality.”   

The congressman pointed to concerns within the Capitol Police rank and file about Pittman’s leadership. The union representing officers gave Pittman a 92% no confidence vote. “You can’t run an organization without the trust of the rank and file,” Ryan said.  

Much of the hearing focused on the failures to act on the available intelligence before Jan. 6 or even to get the necessary information to the correct decision-makers. Pittman said her department was aware of the likelihood of violence by extremists Jan. 6. But “no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands” would attack the Capitol that day. she said. 

“They didn’t synthesize all of the information,” Ryan said. Even if there wasn’t actionable intelligence, the information that law enforcement received about potential violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 should have been enough to prompt mobilizing the National Guard and establishing a strong perimeter.     

In examining the intelligence failures of the day, Ryan said his committee also needs to know what the Secret Service, which accompanied Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol, knew in advance about potential threats. If the Secret Service wasn’t aware of a threat, that is “no excuse,” Ryan said. 

Lack of information also inhibited the police officers’ response as the situation at the Capitol escalated and lives were at risk, he asserted. 

“Clearly, more aggressive actions should have been taken and that goes back to not being prepared when they needed to be prepared,” he said. 

Pittman brought up concerns among law enforcement about militia groups that have indicated a desire to “blow up the Capitol” and kill as many members of Congress as possible when President Joe Biden makes his first address to Congress. 

That came up during a discussion of when fencing and other extra security measures now in place might be removed. Ryan acknowledged that many people want to see the fencing come down but that can’t happen until there is a game plan in place to address security concerns, including for House and Senate office buildings. 

Ryan didn’t have much information about a potential threat centering specifically on the upcoming Biden speech, which has yet to be scheduled, but there are “always threats,” he said. 

“It’s important that we do keep [the Capitol] as open as possible. There’s probably going to be an extension of the perimeter,” he said. 

Pictured: Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.