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Trump’s Jan. 6th National Guard Lie Crumbles

Christopher Miller, Trump’s acting defense secretary, gave a different story under oath than he did to Sean Hannity.
July 27, 2022
Trump’s Jan. 6th National Guard Lie Crumbles
Christopher C. Miller in September 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty)

One of the biggest lies that former President Trump and his allies have perpetuated about January 6th is that Trump ordered the National Guard to secure the Capitol.

His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, was the first to unfurl that tale, at 3:36 p.m. on Jan. 6th:

There is no evidence that he gave such an order.

In a video message the next day, Trump claimed “I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.”

But one thing that has become clear as we have learned about the 187 minutes that the Capitol was under siege is that the dithering Trump did not “immediately” do anything.

Over time, the lie about Trump sending in the National Guard has taken other forms. For example, Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, has claimed that Trump gave a direct order to have 10,000 National Guard troops “at the ready” on Jan. 6th, but that his request was somehow rejected by Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In February 2021, Meadows told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, “As many as 10,000 National Guard troops were told to be on the ready by the secretary of defense. That was a direct order from President Trump.”

That lie has now been decisively put to rest.

Yesterday, the House January 6th Committee revealed testimony from Christopher Miller, Trump’s acting secretary of defense, rejecting the notion that Trump ordered thousands of Guard troops to be standing by:

In the audio clip, a questioner asks Miller whether there is “any accuracy” to Meadows’s statement. Miller’s reply:

Not from my perspective. I was never given any direction or order or knew of any plans of that nature. So, I was surprised by seeing that publicly . . . we obviously had plans for activating more folks, but that was not anything more than contingency planning. There was no official message traffic or anything of that nature.

The questioner follows up: “Just so we’re clear, you did not have 10,000 troops, quote ‘to be on the ready’ . . . prior to January 6th?”

Miller: “A non-military person probably could have some sort of weird interpretation, but no, to answer your question, that was not part of my plan or the Department of Defense’s plan.”

Questioner: “To be crystal clear, there was no direct order from President Trump to put 10,000 troops ‘to be on the ready’ for January 6th, correct?”

Miller: “That’s correct. There was no direct—there was no order from the president.”

Keep in mind that Miller is no Never Trumper. Within a week of the 2020 election, Trump “terminated” Mark Esper, his defense secretary for the previous year and a half, and handed the job to Miller. Given the chaotic nature of his appointment in the final days of Trump’s presidency, Miller was not subjected to Senate confirmation hearings for the position. (The confirmation hearing for the position he briefly held before that, the director of counterintelligence, was perfunctory.) And during his ten-week tenure running DoD, Miller often proved willing to indulge Trump’s most far-out demands.

For example, as the Jan. 6th Committee previously revealed, Miller heeded requests from Meadows to follow up on a conspiracy theory regarding Italian satellites that were, supposedly, rigged to flip votes from Trump. In his capacity as the highest-ranking defense official, Miller phoned a DoD attaché in Rome about it, who disabused him of the idea.

Meanwhile, in an appearance on Fox News last month, Miller and his former DoD chief of staff, Kash Patel, agreed with Meadows’s claim that Trump had authorized thousands of National Guard to be ready for Jan. 6th. Miller’s statement on Fox seems to contradict his statement given to the Jan. 6th Committee under oath and under the threat of perjury.

The Fox interview was with Sean Hannity, who moonlighted as a secret crisis communications adviser to Trump throughout his presidency and frequently coordinated with his staff. Hannity has repeatedly used his program to promote the idea that Trump’s request to secure the Capitol was stymied by Democrats on Jan. 6th.

In the segment with Miller and Patel, Hannity asserted that on January 4, 2021, President Trump “approved,” “authorized,” and “signed off on” the use of “up to 20,000 National Guard troops.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Hannity said, refused to send the necessary request for the troops. The implication is that Trump did all that he could, that the Democrats failed, and that on the day of Jan. 6th Trump was an innocent and impotent bystander, powerless to help.

Hannity asked Miller and Patel to confirm that, two days before Jan. 6th, “you heard” Trump authorize the use of the Guard.

Patel: “Mr. Trump unequivocally authorized up to 20,000 National Guardsmen and -women for us to utilize should the second part of the law—the requests—come in. But those requests never did, as you highlighted.”

Hannity: “Let me be very clear. Both of you said this under oath, under the threat of—the penalty of perjury to the committee?”

Miller: “Absolutely, Sean.” He went on to talk about what a “serious” and memorable meeting it was. “The president was doing exactly what I expect the commander-in-chief to do.”

It is hard to see how Miller can square his Fox remarks with the clip excerpted from his sworn testimony before the Jan. 6th Committee. On Fox he agreed with Hannity that Trump authorized the use of thousands of Guard troops; in his testimony he said that there had been no order from Trump for Guard troops to be ready and no discussion beyond “contingency planning.”

But people can lie to the media without any consequences. Lying to Congress has criminal penalties.

This may explain the disparity in Miller’s stories.

It is worth revisiting testimony about Jan. 6th that Miller gave another congressional committee last year, since it supports his newly revealed testimony and undermines his attempt on Fox to depict Trump as having properly discharged his responsibilities.

Last year, Miller told Congress that several days before Jan. 6th he had received from Mayor Bowser a written request to have “unarmed National Guard support” for law enforcement. Miller said that he himself approved that request on January 4, 2020, ordering the deployment of 340 National Guard personnel on Jan. 6th into various locations around Washington. Miller explicitly testified that Trump previously “had delegated his authority” on this matter to the secretary of defense.

Contrary to Miller’s attempt on Fox to depict Trump as acting responsibly and “doing exactly what I expect the commander-in-chief to do,” Miller testified last year that Trump’s engagement with the question of Jan. 6th security was superficial.

First, Miller testified that on January 3, 2021—did he mean January 4, as he told Hannity?—Trump was told about Mayor Bowser’s request for National Guard troops. “The President said to give the Mayor the support she requested,” Miller said, noting that the discussion lasted “less than a minute.” Moreover, Miller said, the subject “was not discussed . . . in the context of seeking or needing the President’s approval.” So much for the president giving clear orders.

Second, Miller recounted an extremely brief January 5, 2021 phone call in which Trump referred to the National Guard without giving any order:

On the afternoon of January 5, I received a call from the President in connection with a rally by his supporters that day at Freedom Plaza. The President asked if I was watching the event on television. I replied that I had seen coverage of the event. He then commented that “they” were going to need 10,000 troops the following day. The call lasted fewer than thirty seconds and I did not respond substantively, and there was no elaboration.

So in his sworn testimony last year, Miller described Trump as barely engaged in the security question and never explicitly ordering 10,000 or 20,000 National Guard troops to be on ready for Jan. 6th. That matches what Miller told the Jan. 6th Committee under oath, and it clashes with what he said on Fox.

A final point to consider: Questions regarding Trump’s desire to use the military for his political ends loomed large inside the Defense Department after he sought to invoke the Insurrection Act to put down the Black Lives Matters protesters in the summer of 2020. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons Miller ended up as acting secretary of defense: Esper publicly opposed Trump’s desire to use military force against protesters, which is part of why Trump fired him and installed Miller in his place.

Although Miller was aligned with Trump, he was leery of Trump’s impulses on this front. As he told Congress in his testimony last year:

I was also cognizant of the fears promulgated by many about the prior use of the military in the June 2020 response to protests near the White House and fears that the President would invoke the Insurrection Act to politicize the military in an anti-democratic manner. And, just before the Electoral College certification, ten former Secretaries of Defense signed an Op-Ed piece published in the Washington Post warning of the dangers of politicizing and using inappropriately the military. No such thing was going to occur on my watch but these concerns, and hysteria about them, nonetheless factored into my decisions regarding the appropriate and limited use of our Armed Forces to support civilian law enforcement during the Electoral College certification.

Such concerns contributed to Miller’s January 4, 2021 memo limiting the ability of the 340 approved National Guard personnel around Washington to engage in “riot control” on Jan. 6th without first obtaining Miller’s authorization.

Eventually, the National Guard was deployed on Jan. 6th. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to the committee that while Trump remained silent during the attack on the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence was calling on Miller to deploy the National Guard: “[Pence] was very animated, very direct, very firm to Secretary Miller. Get the military down here, get the guard down here. Put down this situation, et cetera.”

There is much that still needs to be explained about why it took 187 minutes for the Capitol to be secured on Jan. 6th. But whatever Miller said to Trump’s fans on Fox News, he is clearly on record, under oath, testifying that Trump was disengaged and did not in advance authorize thousands of National Guard troops.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.