The Jan. 6 committee used radio traffic and the account of a White House security official on Thursday to illustrate how close things were to a call for Mike Pence — and his Secret Service agents — at the heart of the attack.
As rioters first made their violent entry into the Capitol minutes after 2 p.m., Pence was still in the Senate Chamber. For a few frantic minutes – as the crowd outside chanted ‘Hang Mike Pence’ – Pence’s security detail moved him first to a ceremonial office just off the bedroom and then to a more safe in the Capitol building, where he remained for the duration of the attack.
Radio exchanges of Pence’s details made it clear how serious they thought the threat to his security was at the time.
“They entered the building!” yells an officer on the radio. “Strengthen that door,” said another, apparently referring to an open door inside the Capitol.
“If we move, we have to move now,” said another. “If we lose more time, we risk losing the ability to leave. So if we have to leave, we have to do it now.
Next: Alerts that rioters were on the second floor and moving in. “We might consider getting out and leaving, now.”
“Are we going to meet the people once we have our way?” another person asks.
Another voice: “We have a clear shot if we move fast.”
The response was less than comforting: “There are six officers between us and the people who are 5 to 10 feet from me.”
Someone alerts the team that an unidentified smoke is in the Capitol. And then an update: “We will bypass some protesters who are confined.” Nonetheless, officers continued to move Pence.
#January 6 committee plays audio of WH security officials trying to protect then-Vice President Mike Pence from insurgents as they approached within feet of him #hearingoftheJanuary6Committee pic.twitter.com/89NZfpBWw9
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) July 22, 2022
“Say goodbye to family”
An 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 vice president’s detail at this time were beginning to fear for their own lives,” said the official, whose voice was masked by the committee. “There was a lot of shouting, a lot of very personal calls on the radio. So it was disturbing, I don’t like to talk about it, but there were calls to say goodbye to family members etc. It was getting – whatever the reason on the ground, the VP detail thought it was going to be very ugly.
“It was just chaos,” the official added. “They were just screaming.”
When asked why the official had “put him in an entryway” – the questioner was apparently referring to a National Security Council update from a staffer who wrote “Service on Capitol Hill does not ring not well right now” – the official replied that, based on incoming Secret Service radio traffic, it was unclear whether Pence was in danger or whether the service should use lethal force. That, he said, was something “the ground” needed to know.
“If they run out of options and they get nervous, it looks like we’ve come very close to forcing the Service to use lethal options, or worse,” he said. “At that time, I don’t know. Is the VP compromised? Does the detail– I don’t know. We had no visibility.
“If they’re screaming and saying things like ‘say goodbye to the family,’ the ground needs to know that it’s going to go to a whole new level soon.”