Army changes account of key phone call on response to Capitol riot

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. By Oren Liebermann, Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman, CNN

(CNN) -- The US Army has changed its account of a key phone call that took place on January 6 as rioters stormed the US Capitol. More than two weeks after the riot, the Army put forward two senior generals to speak with reporters Thursday to explain their roles on that afternoon after conflicting accounts of what took place circulated.

They changed their explanation soon after the Department of Defense acknowledged that one of the generals who spoke to reporters, Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn -- the brother of President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- was in the room for one of the key January 6 phone calls.

The shifting accounts are only likely to increase scrutiny on the Pentagon, which is already trying to rebut accusations that it denied or delayed the deployment of additional troops as the riot worsened on Capitol Hill, eventually leaving five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. A Washington, DC, official called the process of calling up more guardsmen "long" and "tortured."

Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied the accusations, insisting there were no intentional delays, though then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy on Monday told CNN the response was hampered by an "archaic system."

On Thursday's call Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, who serves as director of the Army Staff, acknowledged for the first time that he may have expressed concern about the "optics" of deploying more troops on the streets of the nation's capital, despite previously strenuously denying he ever made such a statement. And Flynn, the deputy chief of staff of the Army, said that he was in the room for part of the call that included Piatt, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, and others, but he was unsure if he spoke.

'No intent to deceive'

Army spokeswoman Gen. Amy Hannah insisted that defense officials had "no intent to deceive" anyone and claimed the Army had never misrepresented Flynn's participation in the call because they never made an on-the-record statement before Wednesday about him.

"We cannot account for any comments made ... by an anonymous official," Hannah said.

In the days following the riots, the Army organized multiple briefings with anonymous senior defense officials while insisting that those briefings remain "on background," even as reporters pushed for them to be on-the-record.

Piatt, a three-star general, said he may have talked about the "optics" of putting troops in riot gear on the streets of the capital after speaking with note-takers, but he didn't remember it in the "chaos" of an urgent phone call as Washington officials requested immediate Army help.

"If someone says I said that, I don't recall saying it, that's the best I can say, I'm not trying to mislead anyone, I'm just being as honest as I can," Piatt said.

But Piatt vehemently denied that he was worried about the optics last week, after the Washington Post quoted former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund accusing Piatt of not liking "the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background." Piatt maintained he "did not make the statement or any comments similar to what was attributed" to him.

On Thursday evening, Piatt struck a completely different tone after he conferred with note-takers in the room. "Some folks say I may have said that, so OK I may have said that, I'm not gonna deny what they said. I'm not aware of a transcript. I've not seen one. If there is one, we would love to see it."

Piatt, who has faced accusations from Sund and DC officials that he rejected a request to send additional troops, emphasized that he said three times on the call that he did not have the authority to call up more National Guardsmen. "I stressed that the secretary of the Army was down with the acting secretary of Defense and that he needed to make that decision," Piatt said.

During that January 6 call, Flynn entered the room and listened in for a total of four minutes, he said on the call with reporters Thursday, shedding light for the first time on his involvement, just one day after the Army acknowledged for the first time that he was ever on the call. Flynn said he was in a meeting in the Pentagon when he was interrupted and told McCarthy needed him urgently. He said he got to the office just as McCarthy was leaving to see then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to authorize the deployment of more troops.

Flynn said he entered the room for about four minutes and listened, along with Piatt and Deputy General Counsel Michelle Pierce.

"As far as me speaking on that teleconference, if the mic was open, I may have said something to Michelle Pierce or to Walt Piatt. I do not recall saying anything in the conference, but I may have. I just don't recall saying anything to the audience on the other end."

Flynn's brother disputed Biden's victory

Flynn is the younger brother of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's first national security adviser who was a vocal adherent of disputing President Joe Biden's victory on behalf of the former President. Michael Flynn, who was pardoned by Trump, had suggested in an Oval Office meeting that the President should invoke martial law as part of the effort to overturn the election, though others in the room pushed back on the idea, CNN previously reported. At a rally the day before the riot, Michael Flynn urged the crowd to dispute the election results.

"The Army leadership has full confidence in the integrity, honor and service of Lt. Gen. Flynn and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army staff," said Gen. Hannah. Charles Flynn categorically denied that Michael Flynn had any influence on his actions or decisions.

The official timeline from Miller's office listed McCarthy, Bowser, the city's deputy mayor, DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Christopher Rodriguez, and Metropolitan Police Department leadership as participants on the call. Officials said Piatt was also on the call.

But there was no mention of the involvement of Charles Flynn, a three-star general who has already been approved by Congress for a fourth star. Flynn is responsible for operations, plans and training, but he is not part of the chain of command of the DC National Guard, and he does not have the authority to deploy troops.

In official timelines released by the Department of Defense in the wake of the riot Charles Flynn was not listed as participating in any of the calls that day about mobilizing the National Guard to respond to the riot.

The Washington Post reported that the Army "falsely denied for days that Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn" was involved in the key meetings. One of the officials who was on the call told CNN in the days following the insurrection at the Capitol that Flynn was not on the calls, but the military did not confirm his participation until Wednesday.

In the days leading up to January 6, Pentagon officials were sensitive to the deployment of troops on the streets of DC, particularly after the criticism they faced following the Army's response to June's protests.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon deployed 340 members of the DC National Guard, asking both the city and the Capitol Police if they needed more troops. Both said no. But as the situation rapidly deteriorated on January 6, now-ousted Capitol Police Chief Stephen Sund and DC officials say military leaders waffled and were overly concerned about the public perception of more troops being deployed on the streets once again.

The open involvement of Charles Flynn, just one day after his brother, Michael Flynn, egged on Trump supports with cries of a stolen election and violent imagery, would have only increased that scrutiny. The elder Flynn was permanently banned from Twitter for promoting QAnon and spreading lies and conspiracy theories about the presidential election. Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump's first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian diplomats before Trump pardoned him in November.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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