The Fog of Democracy: Chertoff Considers the Crisis

Chertoff

Days after the seizing of Capitol Hill by Trump rioters seeking to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote for President-elect Joe Biden, there’s still been no public briefing by the Capitol Police, the law enforcement agency responsible for Congress’s physical security.

Dozens of people have been arrested and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter on Sunday to Vice President Mike Pence warning that if he and the cabinet failed to remove President Trump by exercising the 25th amendment, the Congress would move ahead with the second impeachment of Trump.

Meanwhile, across the country several police agencies and the New York City Fire Department have confirmed that they are investigating the potential role of active-duty members in the successful effort to seize the Capitol where Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over the U.S. Senate and Speaker Nancy Pelosi had convened the House of Representatives.

In the days since the breach of the Capitol evidence has emerged that there were elements of the violent mob that were not only intent on disrupting the certification of the Biden win in November but to take physical custody of Pence, and Pelosi, number two and three in the line of Presidential succession.

Violent graphic video continues to emerge of a group of insurrectionists who had breached the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence” as others yelled “Tell Pelosi we’re coming for that bitch. Tell fucking Pelosi we’re coming for her.”

News photographers and social media images captured individuals in paramilitary tactical gear who were in the leading edge of the surging mob carrying zip ties used to restrain prisoners while rioters outside were able to construct a hanging gallows, complete with a noose for executions.

On Jan. 10,  the Washington Post reported the arrest by the FBI of two men who had been pictured with zip ties including a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Texas.

Throughout the 2020 campaign President Trump cast himself as the only candidate capable of restoring “law and order” after mass protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in police custody swept the country.

Trump received a long list of endorsements from police unions around the country who found themselves increasingly on the defensive after several high-profile police involved killings of unarmed African Americans.

In an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said that it was “legitimate” for investigators to ask if “conscious or unconscious bias or some political spin for the Capitol Police” played a role in that agency’s inability to protect the U.S. Capitol from thousands of rioting Trump supporters of Jan. 6.

“Whether they underestimated the threat or believed because they were Trump supporters, they weren’t going to be a problem, that was a very serious error and can never be allowed to be repeated,” Chertoff, told CBS correspondent David Martin.

Prior to leading DHS under President George W. Bush, Chertoff served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit as well as the US Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

It was also Elizabeth native Chertoff who led the 2000-2001 New Jersey State Legislature’s probe into long standing allegations of racial profiling by New Jersey State Police which was sparked by the 1998 shooting of four unarmed young men of color on the New Jersey Turnpike by two New Jersey State troopers.

Multiple news outlets, including the New York Times, reported instances where on the day of the insurrection individual Capitol Police were videotaped opening up the barricades to the seething mob and even posing for selfies with the rioters.

General Russel Honore told MSNBC he was “surprised the Pentagon did not have the National Guard on standby” and that there was a “major failure in intelligence” by the FBI.

Moreover, Honore, who worked with Chertoff on turning around the failed Bush administration response to Katrina, raised the possibility that decision by Capitol security officials to turn down assistance leading up to siege was evidence of “complicity” at the highest levels of the on-scene command structure.

Chertoff’s remarks to CBS came the same day as reports that a second Capitol Police officer, who was also on duty on the day of the Trump riot, had apparently committed suicide according to the Associate Press.

On Friday, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, a 42-year-old New Jersey native who served for six years with the New Jersey Air National Guard, died from injuries he suffered defending the Capitol Building during the siege.

Reuters reported that Charles Sicknick, the fallen officer’s father, said in an interview his son had been pepper-sprayed and hit in the head. “He ended up with a clot on the brain,” Sicknick told Reuters. “If they had operated on him, he would’ve become a vegetable.”

Sicknick’s father also told Reuters his son was a Trump supporter but that his political views “never interfered with his duty to protect and serve.”

Before the end of the week, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for the resignation of Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the exit of her chamber’s sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving.

In an extensive interview on Jan. 10 with the Washington Post, Sund said he had made a half dozen requests of both the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms that the D.C. National Guard be placed on high alert standby.

Sund told the newspaper his first request came 48 hours before Congress was set to certify the November election results and repeated five more times on the day of the siege when a mob of 8,000 successfully took over the Capitol and both the Senate and House had to suspend proceedings and go into hiding.

Sund’s account tracks the timeline Maryland Governor Larry Hogan shared with reporters the day after the storming of the Capitol. The Republican Governor said that as soon as he became aware the Capitol was under assault, he “immediately offered support to the District of Columbia, which submitted a direct request for law enforcement support through the emergency management assistance compact.”

Under federal law, approval for Maryland sending the National Guard onto a federal property like the Capitol, rested with the Pentagon and the President, not the Mayor of Washington. “I was ready, willing and able to immediately deploy [National Guard] to the Capitol, however we were repeatedly denied approval to do so,” Hogan told reporters.

While Hogan was waiting, he got a phone call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who, according to Hogan was hiding from the mob in an “undisclosed bunker” with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer.

“[Hoyer] said that the U.S. Capitol Police was overwhelmed, that there was no federal law enforcement presence and that the leaders of Congress were pleading with me, as the Governor of Maryland, for assistance from Maryland’s National Guard and State Police,” Hogan said.

90 minutes later, according to Hogan’s timeline, during which rioters were permitted to ransack the Capitol, he got a call from the Pentagon authorizing the deployment.

The New York Times had previously reported that it was not President Trump who authorized the deployment of the National Guard, but Vice President Mike Pence, who had been presiding over the Senate when he was rushed to a secure location.

If that timeline holds up, it means that it was Vice President Pence, while he was hunkered down at undisclosed location under the protection of the U.S. Secret Service, who made the decision that helped authorities restore order not the President of the United States who just hours before had urged his followers to go down Pennsylvania Avenue “to fight” and to “save our democracy” because he had been “defrauded.”

“We want to go back, and we want to get this right because we’re going to have somebody in there that should not be in there and our country will be destroyed, and we’re not going to stand for that,” Trump declared.

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  • Bruce Todd

    There should absolutely be a full and complete investigation into this “Security Lapse”. The wrong tact to take is to further erode the First Amendment “Right” of people to express their views. Recent statements by Angela Merkel of Germany, Mexican President Lopez-Obrador, and others that the recent move by Twitter and other social media giants to remove the President of the United States from their platforms has a raised huge First Amendment concerns that as the President of Mexico said smack of “A New Holy Inquisition”. If ever a situation shouted for the need for public discourse to air the views of all, it is now.

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