Former acting secretary of defense Chris Miller shifted on key details in the timeline of when the Army agreed to deploy the D.C. National Guard to quell the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection in testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
Miller, who said that he was reluctant to commit troops to the Capitol partly out of fears that it would be perceived as a coup attempt, gave conflicting accounts to lawmakers on when exactly the order to send troops to the Capitol was given.
The question comes down to two moments during the attack on the Capitol: 3:00 p.m., when the Pentagon says the order to mobilize the Guard was given, and 4:32 p.m., when the order to deploy them was given.
During that 90 minute period, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) noted, then-Vice President Mike Pence called Miller. The two had a conversation that Miller described as “brief.” The AP has reported that Pence, who was not legally capable of issuing military orders, told Miller to “clear the Capitol.”
Debates over when the National Guard should have been deployed have been obfuscated by people misinterpreting the 3:00 p.m. order to mobilize the guard with an order to physically deploy soldiers to the Capitol.
Under questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Miller furthered that confusion. The lawmaker asked Miller if the 3:00 p.m. order wasn’t “an authorization to deploy to the Capitol.”
Miller replied that it was an authorization to deploy. “I gave full authorization to deploy, ma’am,” he said, specifying that the order was approved at 3:00 pm and officially issued at 3:04 pm.
From then on, Miller tried to shift responsibility to his subordinate — D.C. National Guard commanding general William Walker. After 3:04, Miller said, it was up to Walker to draft a plan for how to clear the building.
But even after Walker drafted the plan, it wasn’t “approved” until 4:32. A DOD timeline shows that it was Miller who green-lit the plan, allowing troops to be deployed.
“It took 90 minutes to plan to send the Guard to the Capitol?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
Miller replied that “this is a great conversation, and I want to be completely helpful.”
“So at 3 o’clock, 3 p.m., I gave the order to mobilize the National Guard, and then the planning sequence went forward,” he added, before saying that he gave the order to mobilize, and not deploy, at 3:00 pm.
That’s a significant shift, in part because it confirms that even after multiple elected officials — from D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — had informed him of the disaster unfolding at the Capitol, Miller had not yet committed troops to the seat of government.
Miller said that he did not speak to Trump at all on Jan. 6, and his responses leave open questions about why it took so long after initial requests to move troops to the Capitol building.
Miller didn’t clear things up much when Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) picked up Ocasio-Cortez’s line of questioning, though he did redouble his efforts to pass the buck to Walker.
When pressed by Johnson on whether he had put restrictions on the use of a quick reaction Guard force near the Capitol, he said that he “gave guidance that I wanted to be involved” but that Walker could have deployed them unilaterally if he so chose.
Walker has testified that he had to wait for approval from Miller and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy before he deployed the troops. A memo from McCarthy obtained by the Washington Post showed that Walker had to first draw out a “concept of operation.” The crafting of that plan, Miller said, took up the time between his mobilization order at 3:00 p.m. and the order for deployment at 4:32 p.m.
“Secretary Miller wanted to make the decisions of how the National Guard was going to be employed on that day,” testified Robert Salesses, a senior DOD official, before Congress in March.
Ocasio-Cortez also noted that Walker said he did not receive an official order to deploy until 5:08, a delay that Miller attributed to “fog and friction, so much going on.”
The delay puts Pence’s potential role into starker relief.
Rep. Maloney asked Miller whether his final order to deploy the Guard had anything to do with Pence’s call, given that the decision came 24 minutes after the Vice President called and three hours after Mayor Bowser asked for support.
Miller said that the two were unrelated.
“I find that hard to believe,” Maloney replied.