Michael Stenger, Ousted Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Dies at 71

Michael Stenger, who resigned as the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms after the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol exposed a lack of security planning, died on Monday. He was 71.

His family announced his death but did not give a cause or say where he died.

Mr. Stenger resigned under pressure from Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, a day after the insurrection by mobs supporting President Donald J. Trump. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, the incoming majority leader, vowed to fire Mr. Stenger if he was still in office on Jan. 20, 2021.

As the sergeant-at-arms, Mr. Stenger was the Senate’s chief law enforcement officer, a role that also involves enforcing its rules and coordinating official events and visits. The insurrection presented him with an unprecedented challenge.

He found himself at the center of a breakdown in command that prevented the deployment of the National Guard to the Capitol before the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes for president.

Acting on intelligence that warned of possible violence that day, Steven Sund, the Capitol Police chief, sought approval from Mr. Stenger and his House counterpart, Paul Irving, to bring in the National Guard.

“If we would have had the National Guard,” Chief Sund told The Washington Post five days after the riots, “we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive.”

Chief Sund testified to the Senate’s Rules and Homeland Security Committees on Feb. 23, 2021, that Mr. Irving had denied the request for help from the National Guard in part because he “was concerned with the optics of having National Guard present.” Mr. Irving denied saying that optics was a concern.

Mr. Stenger did not make the request, either, but directed Chief Sund to “lean forward” and ask the National Guard how quickly they could help. Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving testified that they did not consider Chief Sund’s appeal for help a formal request to the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the department. Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving were two of the board’s three members.

Only at 2:10 p.m. on Jan. 6, after protesters had breached the Capitol, did Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving issue an emergency declaration to allow Chief Sund to formally ask for the National Guard, according to a report by the Senate’s Rules and Homeland Security Committees. The Guard began to arrive after 5 p.m.

The report said that the members of the Capitol Police Board, Mr. Stenger among them, “did not appear to be fully familiar with the statutory and regulatory requirements for requesting National Guard support, which contributed to the delay in deploying the National Guard to the Capitol.”

In prepared remarks to the committees before he testified in February 2021, Mr. Stenger said that “whenever you prepare for a major event, you must always consider the possibility of some sort of civil disobedience at these demonstrations and plan accordingly. The events of Jan. 6 went beyond disobedience. This was a violent, coordinated attack where the loss of life could have been much worse.”

While the “ultimate blame” for Jan. 6 “lies with the unhinged criminals” who stormed the Capitol, Senator McConnell said the following day, “this fact does not and will not preclude our addressing the shocking failures in the Capitol’s security posture and protocols.”

Michael Conrad Stenger was born on July 11, 1950. After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey with a bachelor’s degree, he served in the Marine Corps, then joined the Secret Service, where, over 35 years, he rose to assistant director.

He was hired as assistant sergeant-at-arms for the Senate in 2011; became the deputy sergeant-at-arms in 2014; chief of staff in 2015; and the sergeant-at-arms in 2018.

Mr. Stenger is survived by his wife, Janet (Oechsner) Stenger; his daughter, Nicole Densmore; his son, Brian; two grandchildren, and his sisters, Kathy Anthony and Anne Froede.

A year before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Mr. Stenger performed a ceremonial role in another major event at the Capitol: he read a proclamation before the start of the first impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in the Senate.

“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” he said, “all persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.”

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