Reporting during the storming of the Capitol

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Members of Congress and their staffs aren’t the only ones who work in and around Capitol buildings. The press gallery is stuffed with cubicles belonging to members of the media, including our own WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller, who joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin with his account of Wednesday’s events.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And Mitchell, you are an eyewitness, but also kind of pinned down at the same time by the whole thing. Tell us what it looked like from where you were standing Wednesday.

Mitchell Miller: Right. This was an incredible day, as you can imagine. So where we are in the U.S. Capitol is on the House side. And that’s an area a little worn of reporters where I am. And it’s right off the hallway of the gallery to the House chamber. So when we found out that they were moving furniture, and actually had guns drawn in the House chamber, and obviously the lawmakers had been evacuated, we knew there was major trouble. So in this area that I’m in, all of a sudden, the doors – everybody was locking the doors, you could hear door slamming, there was a lot of tension, as you can imagine, because people didn’t know what actually was happening in the corridors, especially after we got locked down. And then of course, at that time, the Capitol was locked down. So at the same time that I was reporting, I was also trying to figure out, have situational awareness. So I looked out the window from where I am, where I can look out on the west side of the Capitol, look, look down the Mall toward the Washington Monument, nd of course, I saw thousands upon thousands of pro-Trump supporters, all moving toward the scaffolding of the Capitol, which of course, everybody then saw they eventually took over. But you could hear the dull roar of that happening outside of the Capitol, you can hear the sounds inside the Capitol. And then everybody in this area that I’m in was all scurrying around trying to figure out exactly what was going to happen next. And, of course, everything really ratcheted up when we found out about the shooting of the woman in the Capitol. And we subsequently found out that it actually happened right outside the speaker’s lobby, which is just a floor down below from where I am. And I actually just recently walked past that and to look down that hallway, and to know that that was where a shot was fired, a woman was injured initially and then later died at the hospital – that was an area where all of the protesters had been really pushing hard and crashing through the windows. And obviously, there will be an investigation to exactly what happened. But it’s really incredible to think that that was all happening in just this relatively small area of the Capitol here.

Tom Temin: The periodical gallery, the correspondence where you are is in the south east part of the Capitol over the house facing forward?

Mitchell Miller: Right so we’re kind of, you can kind of look both ways. But basically, you’re either looking out over the Mall, or you’re looking if you move the other way, you can quickly get to the other side and come in from the east side. And of course, the east side was where all of the protesters were moving on to the steps. And really, for me, that was when a major red flag went off, because as you well know, you never see people up on the steps ever. The only people you ever see on the steps are the leadership of Congress and other lawmakers or perhaps family members when somebody prominent has died. So when we saw dozens upon dozens of people on the steps, I knew something was really, really wrong there. And then of course, it wasn’t long until people were starting to get inside the building. And then that, of course, was a huge shocker. Because as I was looking around on monitors and various things, then it was clear that they were walking around in Statuary Hall, they were walking around the rotunda. And then of course, subsequently, we learned that they actually went into the Senate chamber where that infamous picture was taken of the person sitting in the chair, that Vice President Mike Pence had literally been sitting in minutes before, presiding over the Electoral College count.

Tom Temin: Yes and just to clarify for people, the Capitol grounds are pretty wide open, at least to foot traffic, not so much vehicular traffic. And people can get up to the building, you can probably sit on the bottom step there, and other staircases, but that’s about as far as you can ordinarily go without an appointment, correct?

Mitchell Miller: Right. And in this case, they had set up barriers, they set up basically bike racks all the way around, that usually extends roughly 100 yards or so from the Capitol. And so when there have been protests in the past, for example, when the Black Lives Matter, protests were taking place, all of those barriers stayed in place. Now, of course, there are points where people try to push through, but generally, the police hold the line there. And what was different about this situation was the police, for whatever reason, did not hold the line on at least a major part of that barrier area. Some video shows them possibly letting people in, it’s not really clear, we don’t have the full picture of that. Obviously, that will come up with the investigation into what happened but the fact that they were able to get up the steps that quickly is really remarkable. At other times when the Capitol is open during “regular times,” you’re right you can get as close as the the lower steps and walk around that area, kind of a courtyard area on the east side that is in between the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the Capitol on the east side. But this was certainly something unprecedented.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And so you were locked in the gallery – the press gallery.

Mitchell Miller: Right. And then what happened was, we continued to try to report but it became clear from the U.S. Capitol Police standpoint that it was untenable, unsafe for us to stay here because we just didn’t know where these marauding mobs were going. So Capitol Police came up into the gallery area where we are and there were several press people, obviously, along with staffers and they then escorted us, and we went down basically into the bowels of the Capitol, which you know, well, that the areas where you actually can walk along where the rail lines are that many of the lawmakers take to go back and forth between the House and Senate buildings. So what they did was they took us to the Rayburn Building, and the Rayburn Building actually had a press area there. And we were able to essentially shelter in place while we were reporting and knew that we were going to have to wait things out because everything again was still shut down. And then early in the evening, we started to get word that well, it does look like Congress is going to try to come back and actually carry out what they originally intended to do, which, to be honest, was a little bit of a surprise to me at first, I knew that they would be determined to come back to make a showing that what had happened couldn’t deter them from carrying out their constitutional duty. But keep in mind, you know, they had to sweep the entire US Capitol and do a major security sweep. And from everything I’ve heard that went really well and was well executed. So when the lawmakers came back then that allowed us to be able to come back into our regular work spots. But just as a quick anecdote to show you that everything was not completely back to normal, I got a knock on my booth. And I turned around and there was a Capitol Police officer with a bomb sniffing dog. So obviously, let them in, they did their thing, the dog did not find anything and moved on elsewhere. But that just shows you even during the evening, when there were these very emotional debates going on on the House and Senate floors, there was still a lot of activity related to law enforcement and security.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so the Capitol Hill, police then appear to do some things very well, and some things that are going to be subject to questioning.

Mitchell Miller: Right, and I think that’s a point that a lot of the lawmakers are making is that, you know, they don’t want to undermine what the, in some cases were really heroic activities carried out by some of these officers as these people just started marauding, as I said, through the Capitol, you know, they were trying to hold back doors. In some cases, they only had one or two people and people have seen the videos where you just had dozens of people crushing upon them. But I think the broader issue that’s going to be looked at of course, is what was the preparation in connection with that barrier and that perimeter because that’s basically security one on one, that they have to have a certain perimeter, and you just are not supposed to allow people to get too close. And there’s also some questions about how much coordination was done with the Metropolitan Police Department. And the other thing that’s interesting is, as you know, I mean, this type of thing, actually, aside from what happened on Jan. 6, this happens all the time. We have protesters that are usually down at the White House or at the Ellipse, they often make their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, and they end up here at the Capitol. And so it wasn’t like this was a big mystery or a big surprise. But apparently, part of the surprise was the fact that there were so many people and they were so willing to just start moving in on the Capitol and I was on a reporter call with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who will become the head of the Intelligence Committee, and he was just furious about it. He just can’t believe what happened and he actually indicated that he had been debriefed the night before, and had been assured that everything was going to be in place and everything was going to be set. But clearly, everybody even a lay person looking at what happened knows that the Capitol Police were just totally overwhelmed, at least in those initial hours.

Tom Temin: And for all the hours you were trapped either between the gallery or the Rayburn Building, did you and the other reporters at least have access to say a vending machine if you wanted a bag of chips or a restroom? I mean, Capitol Hill is famous for the leaks.

Mitchell Miller: That was actually the restroom was the biggest thing that people wanted to utilize. Because he’d been working nonstop all day, and finally you get get a chance to catch your breath over there. I have to say on a personal note, the House Radio TV gallery, they are a really great staff and they were so helpful. They made sure that they could get you a work spot, because they knew that people need the real-time information. So we were there. I mean, it was really remarkable that we were able to do that just on the fly and be able to report like that. Granted, we were in the bowels of the the Rayburn Building but we we still knew what was going on. We we were kept informed. And in fact, at one point I heard the – over the PA, the announcement coming that the curfew was going to be going into effect in D.C. at 6pm. So we were still kept in the loop on a lot of things and they were just really great to help us out.

Tom Temin: Mitchell Miller is Capitol Hill correspondent at WTOP. Glad you’re safe and thanks for joining me.

Mitchell Miller: Sure thing.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Hear the Federal Drive on your schedule. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows.

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