WASHINGTON – Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, was tapped Friday to become the House’s first African American sergeant-at-arms as Congress sorts through the grave security failings revealed by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday announced the appointment of Walker, who was closely involved with the security that day as he dispatched troops to back up overwhelmed Capitol Police.
He will replace Paul Irving, who resigned immediately after the insurrection. Walker's testimony has been a crucial part of investigations into how hundreds of former President Donald Trump's supporters could have invaded the Capitol and sent members of the House and Senate fleeing for their lives. National Guard troops were delayed in getting to the building as the rioters beat up police officers and smashed through windows and doors to get in.
Walker testified in a Senate hearing that the then-chief of the Capitol Police requested military support in a “voice cracking with emotion” in a 1:49 p.m. call that day as rioters began pushing toward the Capitol. Walker said he immediately relayed the request to the Army but did not learn until after 5 p.m. that the Defense Department had approved it. Guard troops who had been waiting on buses were then rushed to the Capitol, arriving in 18 minutes, Walker said.
While other officials have pointed blame at one another and spoken of meetings and conversations about the optics of a military presence, Walker has given the most detailed account of the delay. Pentagon officials have said they wanted to take time to understand precisely how National Guard troops would be used at the Capitol and what assignments they would be given.
Walker said he hoped that his testimony would “prevent such tragic events from ever occurring again” and that he was “sickened by the violence and destruction I witnessed that fateful day." He said he saw the physical and mental harm suffered by the police who were on the front lines.
Pelosi praised Walker's 39 years of military experience, which she said “will be an important asset to the House, particularly in light of the January 6 insurrection.”
“It is essential that we work to strengthen our institution and keep our Capitol community, and all who visit, safe,” she said.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy also praised Walker, saying he “possesses the experience, skill set, and vision” for the job.
“Every member, staffer, employee, and visitor to the Capitol should feel safe with Maj. Gen. Walker at the helm of Sergeant at Arms operations," McCarthy said.
Walker's appointment comes as the House is ramping up its investigations into the events of Jan. 6. On Thursday, seven House committees asked 10 federal agencies for documents and communications from the government as part of a wide-ranging investigation.
Pelosi is expanding the House probe as hopes for creating an independent commission to study the attack are fading. Pelosi had proposed legislation that would create a panel modeled after the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, but Republicans rejected the proposal, saying it would be overly tilted toward Democrats.
Pelosi said Thursday that she would still like to have a bipartisan commission but that there were other ways to investigate the riot, which was led by Trump supporters who sought to stop lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden’s election win.
“We have to find the truth,” Pelosi said. “And we will, and we’re not walking away from that.”
The committees sent letters to the White House, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Archives, FBI, National Guard Bureau, the U.S. Park Police and the departments of Justice, Defense, Interior and Homeland Security. They asked for documents and communications between early December and Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration about preparations for protests, discussions about the electoral count and any action related to the events of Jan. 6 and its aftermath.
Senate committees are also looking into the insurrection. The Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee have already held two hearings with security officials about what went wrong. The security officials described violent attacks on overwhelmed police officers and desperate pleas for backup.
The Democratic and Republican leaders of those Senate committees said in a statement Thursday that they will continue to investigate the attacks and are conducting interviews of many of the officials involved in the response. They said that they expect to release a bipartisan report in the coming months.
House Republicans objected to Pelosi’s plan for a commission because it would be comprised of more Democrats than Republicans, unlike the 9/11 panel, which was evenly split. She has said she would be willing to negotiate on that, but not on the scope of the investigation, which Republicans had said was too broad.
More than 300 people have been charged in connection to the riot. Authorities have said they believe at least 100 more could face charges.
As the committees investigate, Capitol officials are improving the building's physical security, including reinforcing the House doors that the rioters attempted to breach. During the insurrection, a woman was shot to death by police as she tried to climb through a broken window adjacent to the chamber, and rioters banged on the main door to the House as lawmakers were trapped inside. The woman was among five people who died from the riots.
Expediting the “hardening of vulnerable windows and doors" was among the many recommendations from a review led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré after the siege. The changes had been planned before Jan. 6 and are now underway, according to a person familiar with the security plans who discussed them on condition of anonymity.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.