Politics

Ex-Defense secretary blasts authorities for not being better prepared to prevent the Capitol siege

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Key Points
  • "What the hell was law enforcement on Capitol Hill thinking by not having secured the Capitol today?" former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNBC on Wednesday.
  • "Everybody knew that there would be a disturbance," the former Obama administration official added.
  • Other former U.S. national security officials also are questioning whether federal law enforcement should have been more adequately prepared.
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Fmr. Def. Sec. Panetta says it's the most disturbing day of his life to see Capitol under siege

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday sharply criticized federal law enforcement in Washington, contending that inadequate preparation was taken to prevent the siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

"What the hell was law enforcement on Capitol Hill thinking by not having secured the Capitol today?" Panetta said on CNBC's "Closing Bell," shortly after the National Guard was mobilized in response to the pro-Trump mob occupying the Capitol building.

Panetta, who led the Department of Defense under former President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013, also served as CIA director under Obama and as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.

The riot at the Capitol halted a meeting of Congress to certify the Electoral College results of November's presidential election, in which President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump. However, the president has repeatedly and falsely claimed he would have won the election if not for widespread voter fraud.

Supporters of Trump had gathered in Washington this week to protest the election results. Trump addressed them earlier Wednesday at a rally, saying "We will never give up. We will never concede." The president had hyped up his speech on Twitter in the days leading up to it.

"Everybody knew that there would be a disturbance," Panetta told CNBC. "Everybody knew that there would be people who were interested in doing nothing else but creating havoc in the Capitol. And very frankly, it was the responsibility of law enforcement and the Capitol Hill police to secure the Capitol, and I'm not sure what happened that allowed this event."

Other former U.S. national security officials also are questioning whether federal law enforcement should have been more adequately prepared to secure the Capitol, knowing that the House and Senate would be in session to confirm the Electoral College vote.

"I think it's the most shocking failure of security imaginable to place the Congress of the United States at physical risk in an occupied congressional chamber because they weren't prepared to deal with it," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey said earlier on "Closing Bell."

Michael Chertoff, who led the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, echoed the comments from Panetta and McCaffrey.

"I think there also needs to be a look back as to why the Capitol police seemed underprepared for what was the onslaught that they might face," said Chertoff, who oversaw DHS from 2005 to 2009. "People should have never been in a position to get inside the building."

CNBC reached out to the U.S. Capitol Police for comment on the remarks made by Panetta, McCaffrey and Chertoff.

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This is the most shocking failure of security imaginable: Gen. Barry McCaffrey