The Jan. 6 Committee on Thursday used radio traffic and the account of a White House security official to illustrate just how close of a call things were for Mike Pence — and for his Secret Service agents — during the heart of the attack.
As rioters first made their violent entrance to the Capitol a few minutes after 2 p.m., Pence was still in the Senate chamber. Over a frantic few minutes — as the crowd outside chanted “Hang Mike Pence” — Pence’s security detail moved him first to a ceremonial office just beside the chamber, and then to a more secure location within the Capitol Building, where he remained for the duration of the attack.
The radio exchanges from Pence’s detail made clear just how serious they believed the threat to his safety was at the time.
“They’ve entered the building!” one agent yells over the radio. “Harden that door up,” another says, apparently referring to an open door inside the Capitol.
“If we’re moving, we need to move now,” another says. “If we lose any more time, we may lose the ability to leave. So if we’re going to leave, we need to do it now.”
Then: Alerts that rioters were on the second floor, and moving in. “We may want to consider getting out and leaving, now.”
“Will we encounter the people once we make our way?” another person asks.
Another voice: “We have a clear shot if we move quickly.”
The answer was less than comforting: “There are six officers between us and the people that are 5 to 10 feet away from me.”
Someone alerts the team that an unidentified smoke is in the Capitol. And then an update: “We will bypass some protesters that are being contained.” Nonetheless, the officers went forward with moving Pence.
#January6thCommittee plays audio of WH security officials trying to keep then-VP Mike Pence safe from insurrectionists as they came within a few feet of him #January6thCommitteeHearing pic.twitter.com/89NZfpBWw9— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) July 22, 2022
‘Say Goodbye To The Family’
One unnamed White House security official — described by committee member Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) as someone “with access to relevant information and a responsibility to report to national security officials” — detailed the panic they heard in incoming radio traffic.
“Members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives,” said the official, whose voice was disguised by the committee. “There was a lot of yelling, a lot of very personal calls over the radio. So, it was disturbing, I don’t like talking about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth. It was getting — for whatever the reason was on the ground, the VP detail thought that this was about to be very ugly.”
“It was just chaos,” the official added. “They were just yelling.”
Asked why the official had “put it into an entry” — the questioner was apparently referring to a National Security Council update from a staffer who wrote “Service at the capitol does not sound good right now” — the official responded that, based on the incoming radio traffic from the Secret Service, it was unclear whether Pence was in danger, or whether the Service would have to use lethal force. That, he said, was something “the floor” needed to know.
“If they’re running out of options, and they’re getting nervous, it sounds like that we came very close to either Service having to use lethal options, or worse,” he said. “At that point, I don’t know. Is the VP compromised? Is the detail– I don’t know. We didn’t have visibility.”
“If they’re screaming and saying things like ‘say goodbye to the family,’ the floor needs to know this is going to a whole ‘nother level soon.”