“Capitol Police requested National Guard help prior to January 6th. That request was denied by Speaker Pelosi and her Sergeant at Arms.”
— Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), in a tweet, Feb. 15, 2021
Though the Capitol Hill insurrection was inspired by former president Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and mounted by his followers, some Republicans have tried to pin the blame elsewhere. One prominent target is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as this tweet indicates.
We were convinced by House Republican staff to hold off on fact-checking this tweet before last week’s testimony by key figures in the Capitol Hill security during the Jan. 6 events. But if anything, that testimony further undermined Jordan’s widely circulated tweet.
(Jordan also tweeted it “took over an hour” to get approval on Jan. 6 for National Guard support from “Pelosi’s team” after a request was made. We will hold off on fact-checking that, because there continues to be a gap between phone records and individual recollections of the calls. But the New York Times reported that video indicates Pelosi approved the request on the spot once the request was passed to her.)
There are three key players here: Steven A. Sund, the U.S. Capitol Police chief; Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael C. Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms. All three resigned under pressure after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
At issue is what they discussed on Jan. 4, two days before the Capitol riot. Jordan refers to Irving as “her Sergeant at Arms,” but Irving, a former Secret Service supervisor, had been appointed in 2012 by then-House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
In a Feb. 1 letter to Pelosi, Sund wrote he “approached the two Sergeants at Arms to request the assistance of the National Guard, as I had no authority to do so without an Emergency Declaration by the Capitol Police Board (CPB).” He said he spoke first to Irving, who “stated that he was concerned about the ‘optics’ and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it.” Irving suggested Sund check in with Stenger, at the time chair of the CPB and get his thoughts. “Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr. Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed and to ‘lean forward’ in case we had to request assistance on January 6,” Sund wrote.
Sund said he then contacted Gen. William Walker, commanding officer of the D.C. National Guard. Walker “advised that he could repurpose 125 National Guard and have them to me fairly quickly, once approved. I asked General Walker to be prepared in the event that we requested them.”
That was the state of play when Jordan tweeted. Note that there is no indication that Pelosi was at all involved. Irving supposedly had made a vague reference to “optics,” but there is no indication what that means. Moreover, Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, was also reluctant to support an immediate dispatch of National Guard troops. So there is little reason to suggest Irving, acting under Pelosi’s direction, only was responsible. It appeared to have been a joint decision.
When we asked for the evidence for the tweet, a spokesman for the minority staff of the House Judiciary Committee, where Jordan is the top Republican, at the time referred us to a Feb. 15 letter to Pelosi from a group of Republicans that referred to the “optics” statement by Irving. The letter suggested that Irving’s stance had been dictated by Pelosi and asked a series of questions:
- “When then-Chief Sund made a request for National Guard support on January 4th, why was that request denied?”
- “Did Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving get permission or instruction from your staff on January 4th prior to denying Chief Sund’s request for the National Guard?”
- “What conversations and what guidance did you and your staff give the Sergeant at Arms leading up to January 6th specific to the security posture of the campus?”
Interesting questions. But that also means at the time there was no evidence to support the tweet, just speculation. Still, we decided to wait for the Senate hearing on Feb. 23 to see if more information could be gleaned. It was the first time Irving spoke in public about the Jan. 6 events.
At the hearing, Irving said that the proposed National Guard troops were to be unarmed and only to “work traffic control near the Capitol.” He included an explanation of the term optics: “My use of the word optics has been mischaracterized in the media. Let me be clear. Optics as portrayed in the media played no role whatsoever in my decisions about security. And any suggestion to the contrary is false. Safety was always paramount when making security plans for January 6th.”
In his questioning, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tried to drill down deeper in the conversations among Sund, Irving and Stenger. He asked Irving: “Were you concerned that having the Guard present would look like it was to militarize? Were you concerned about the criticism of the Guard being deployed in Washington … earlier this summer?”
In this question, Hawley was getting at the heart of the question about “optics” — the belief among some Republicans that Pelosi somehow had communicated to Irving that she did not want images of National Guard troops at the Capitol, given what had happened during the criminal justice protests after the George Floyd killing.
For instance, The Daily Caller reported on Feb. 27 that unnamed sources claimed that Irving had told Republicans that “previous discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her office factored in to his ‘blender of decision making.’” The Fact Checker had heard such rumors as well, which is why we decided to wait for the Feb. 23 hearing at which Irving would testify under oath.
Separately, Trump, in a Feb. 28 interview with Fox News, falsely claimed that he had requested 10,000 National Guard troops the day before the insurrection but that Pelosi blocked that deployment because she “didn’t think that would look good.” It turns out Trump mentioned the figure in a White House meeting on an unrelated matter but aides dismissed it a typical Trump hyperbole and no request was passed from the Defense Department to Capitol Hill.
Irving, in his response to Hawley, threw cold water on such speculation.
“Senator, I was not concerned about appearance whatsoever. It was all about safety and security,” Irving said. “Any reference would have been related to appropriate use of force, display of force. And ultimately, the question on the table, when we look at any security asset, is: does the intelligence warrant it? Is the security plan match with the intelligence? And again, the collective answer was yes.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) asked whether Irving or Stenger had communicated the Jan. 4 decision on National Guard troops to congressional leadership.
“On Jan. 4, no, I had no follow-up conversations,” Irving said. “And it was not until the 6th that I alerted leadership that we might be making a request. And that was the end of the discussion.”
“For myself, it was Jan. 6 that I mentioned it to Leader [Mitch] McConnell’s staff,” Stenger said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said there had been no discussions between Irving and either Pelosi or her staff about National Guard deployment before Jan. 6. “We are not involved in the day-to-day operations of that office at all,” he said. “We expect security professionals to make security decisions.”
The Pinocchio Test
Without evidence, Jordan asserted that House Speaker Pelosi had denied a request for National Guard troops two days before the insurrection. Instead, public testimony shows she did not even hear about the request until two days later. Jordan also tried to pin the blame on the House sergeant-at-arms, but testimony shows the Senate sergeant-at-arms also was not keen about the idea.
We will keep an eye on this issue in case new information emerges that would result in a new rating. But for the moment, Jordan earns Four Pinocchios for his tweet. Speculation is not the same as evidence.