Trump 'Directed,' 'Motivated,' January 6 Riot: Retired Gen. Russel Honoré

On Thursday, June 9 the Select Committee to Investigate January 6 held its first hearing to present the findings of its months-long investigation. The next day, Newsweek editor-at-large Naveed Jamali, who hosts the "Declassified" podcast, sat down with retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré to talk about his reaction to the night's events.

Honoré, who rose to national prominence for his work coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, was tapped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to review Capitol security following the aftermath.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: Having now seen the new video footage provided by the January 6 Committee, what was your gut reaction? What did you feel? What did you think seeing those videos, hearing that testimony?

It's a replay of living a nightmare watching this happen in our country. This just didn't happen in America. The whole concept of overthrowing the election is a coup. The planning of it is a form of sedition. And to see, having served in the Pentagon as the J-3 on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in charge of military support to civil authorities, I knew the response options that the federal government has to protect our federal government inside Washington, and it wasn't working.

Where are the FBI teams? Where are the DHS teams? Where is the National Guard? What in the hell is going on? It was like a living nightmare because I knew we are better than that. It had to be a failure of leadership and complicity in many parts of the government.

Trump v. Honoré
To the left, Lieutenant General Russel Honoré delivers remarks during a Hurricane Katrina memorial service in New Orleans August, 29 2007. In the photo to the right, former President Donald Trump attends a border security briefing to discuss further plans in securing the southern border wall on June 30, 2021 in Weslaco, Texas. Honoré has criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 Capitol riots. Left photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images) (Right photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Q: Some believe former President Donald Trump in large part directed this, that this was something that he saw as beneficial to him, that he wanted to interrupt the democratic process of swearing in the next president. What do you say to that?

From the day I watched the president as an observer sitting in front of a big TV, [I thought] that he directed this. His will was being imposed on the Congress of the United States, and that will was being executed by the mob that he directed, helped orchestrate, helped resource, and motivated to do what they did. This was a direct attack on the Capitol, enabled by domestic terrorists, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, and a willing crowd who believed in the propaganda that the election was stolen.

Agencies played deaf to the fact that that many people were on the National Mall and walking toward the Capitol. This was with cameras all over the Capitol area. They could see what was happening. All they had to do was watch the news. It was being shown live, and they failed to respond.

If had not been for the immediate response of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, that would have turned out to be a lot worse situation than what we saw. We saw the threats replayed [during the hearing] to hang the vice president, to go after the speaker of the house and anybody that they could find. They had attempted not only to seize the ballots but to disable the office of the vice president of the United States. They had intentions to do harm, and they displayed that by the damage they've done and the combat tactics that they use against the Capitol Police, who were overmatched.

Q: Should we be worried from a national security perspective that this shows the weakness of a decapitating event? If the government can't stop a seditious act because the president is incapacitated or is failing to discharge his duties, is that something Americans should be concerned about from a national security standpoint?

I think we heard a glimpse [during the hearing] that in the absence of the president directing resources or directing the mob to stop that the vice president started issuing orders to the Pentagon, to the FBI, to DHS. In the middle of the riot the vice president started to issue orders, and that's when we saw the clip that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows informed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the president is still in charge, saying 'let's not create a narrative that the vice president is issuing orders.'

I think, at that point in time, for that short period of time, that has been reconstructed from the hearing last night, that the vice president was doing things that the president should have been doing while the president was continuing to watch his mob execute the plan that they had discussed, as planned out with him and his kitchen cabinet of National Security Advisor General Charles Flynn, Assistant to the President Peter Navarro, and the lawyers around him that had been advising him on how to overthrow the government.

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally
The first January 6 Select Committee hearing revealed unseen footage of the day's events. In this photo, pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with former President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Q: How much of this is a failure of intelligence? How much of this is a failure of planning, training, being prepared? Where do you lay that failure, and more importantly, what can be done?

Well, if you looked out at the crowd, you saw the American flags, but you even saw rebel flags, and you saw the Trump flags. I think they perceived these people as not being domestic terrorists but an enthusiastic crowd of white people. I can tell you if this was an enthusiastic crowd of people of foreign descent or Black and Brown people, their response may have been a hell of a lot different, and I'm just speculating here based on what we see around the country and our response.

We had even the governor of Maryland ready to send his National Guard in, but they weren't asked for. The question is why did he wait? He could have sent them in. There were people in the Pentagon who were going by this script that the mayor has to request through the Pentagon, through the secretary of the Army, through the secretary of defense, to the president, to approve the guard which is bullsh*t. That's why the National Guard is there. In duress, in an extreme situation, if they're available, they should have been deployed. It was like amateur hour in the Pentagon.

Q: You have spoken to intelligence issues having affected the response to this situation. Do you think that the fact that there was a sympathetic belief that these groups were pro-police that they would be compliant and perhaps that was a bias that led them to not consider that this could turn violent?

I think that was one of the downfalls of the Capitol Police force. They may have assumed, based on my assessment, they fell into this: 'Well, these people certainly wouldn't attack the Capitol. They're a bunch of white people, Trump supporters. They believe blue lives matter. They are patriots. They would not attack the Capitol.'

January 6, 2021
Congress staffers hold up their hands while Capitol Police Swat teams check everyone in the room as they secure the floor of Trump suporters in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

They became complicit in the idea, and failed to even use the intelligence that was gathered. How does the FBI director not know of threats that they're coming toward the Capitol? Is that incompetence or is it complacent?

Q: If the ringleader behind this is indeed former President Trump, do you think he should face criminal legal consequences for this?

Absolutely. And as I said, the wheels of justice are slow, and the Merrick Garland attorney general office is slower. They continue to edge that way, and I hope this hearing will motivate them to move with more speed and deliberation, because we have two things to coming up in this country.

We've got fall elections where there is a Trump Super MAGA crowd intent on winning at the ballot box because of the other political issues we have in the country with inflation, the war going on, the pandemic, gas prices. It's a deliberate plan now in some states to deny people the right to vote. There are people getting elected to office who are listening to the Trump propaganda that the election was stolen, and they plan on stealing it the next time.