Ashli Babbitt, the San Diego woman fatally shot in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was “posing a threat to the U.S. House of Representatives,” said the officer involved Thursday in his first interview on the matter.
Lt. Michael Byrd of the U.S. Capitol Police Department told Lester Holt of NBC News that he was under death threats, including beheading, and continued to be wary as a result of social media postings.
“I think I showed the utmost courage on January 6, and it’s time to do that now,” Byrd told Holt in an in-person interview aired on the NBC Nightly News.
On Monday, U.S. Capitol Police said an internal investigation found no wrongdoing by the police officer who shot Babbitt, a supporter of then-President Donald Trump.
The police department said in a news release it determined the officer’s conduct was “lawful and within department policy.”
The officer, who wasn’t publicly identified at the time, will not face internal discipline. In fact, he has been widely praised for his actions on Jan. 6.
Babbitt, 35, was a U.S. Air Force veteran who embraced far-right conspiracy theories on social media, including Trump’s false assertions that his 2020 presidential election loss was due to fraud.
“The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters,” the Capitol Police said in the news release.
Early Thursday, Newsweek reported Byrd’s name and quoted his lawyer and that of the Babbitt family.
Newsweek said U.S. Capitol Police officials, police union representatives and government officials had repeatedly claimed that disclosing the identity of the officer would put his and his wife’s lives in danger.
Babbitt’s lawyer, Terry Roberts of Maryland, said he learned that NBC had already taped the interview.
“They put out there that his [Byrd’s] life would be in danger if he came forward, and we know now that that can’t be true because he’s coming forward on his own,” Roberts was quoted as saying. “So, you know, he used that as an excuse.”
Byrd’s own lawyer, Mark Schamel, said: “Running the name of a hero who has the need for 24-hour protection is disgusting and indefensible,” Schamel said July 9 in a text message. He was responding directly to a question that mentioned Byrd by name.
“Is Byrd’s decision to grant a public interview an indication that fears for his safety were unfounded?” Zenger News asked him during a phone call Wednesday night.
“Not in any way, shape or form,” Schamel replied, before declining any further comment.
Minutes later he texted: “I can confirm that my client is a hero. My client justifiably used force to protect members of Congress from an imminent threat posed by violent rioters and that he shot the first rioter who breached the inner sanctum of the House of Representatives and … there is no basis in law or fact for a civil case against him or the Capitol Police.”
“If the violent insurrectionist who died [Babbitt] had survived,” Schamel wrote, “she would have been indicted on felony charges and would have been on her way to prison with her fellow insurrectionists.”
Byrd described the shooting as an act of “last resort” as he spoke publicly three days after a review by the Capitol Police concluded he had acted lawfully and within department policy in shooting the supporter of Trump as she tried to force her way through a smashed window into the House of Representatives’ Speaker’s Lobby.
“It was a very terrifying situation,” Byrd said.
The shooting of Babbitt came on a day of violence that saw hundreds of Trump supporters fight their way into the Capitol, attacking police and sending lawmakers running.
Far-right groups have embraced Babbitt as a martyr, arguing she was murdered. Her cause has also been taken up by Trump, who falsely claimed last month that the officer who shot her was the “head of security” for a “high-ranking” Democratic member of Congress.
Police officers who fought the mob recounted scenes of violence in which rioters beat them, taunted them with racist insults and threatened to kill an officer “with his own gun” in testimony last month to a congressional committee.
A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by rioters died the following day. Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than 100 police officers were injured.
The Capitol Police review of the shooting concluded that it may have saved lives.
“The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters,” the department said. It added that the officer’s family had “been the subject of numerous credible and specific threats.”
The Justice Department in April closed its investigation into the death of Babbitt, saying there was no evidence that the officer had acted criminally in the shooting.
The worst violence at the Capitol since the War of 1812 delayed the certification of Democratic President Joe Biden’s election victory by several hours and brought a huge military presence into the city for several months.
Trump supporters, including some of his Republican allies in Congress, have since tried to play down the day’s events. Rep. Andrew Clyde, who was photographed on Jan. 6 helping to barricade the House chamber door against attackers, has since compared the mob to “a normal tourist visit.”
NBC News provided this transcript of the 6-minute segment:
LESTER HOLT: Your name has been battered about on the internet, but you’ve never been officially, publicly identified. Do you want to tell us who you are?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: My name is Michael Byrd. I’m a Lieutenant for the United States Capitol Police.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: FOR MONTHS HE HAS LIVED IN HIDING. HE SAYS, OVER THIS MOMENT, HIS DECISION TO USE DEADLY FORCE AGAINST A RIOTER AS SHE CLIMBED THROUGH A BARRICADED DOOR THAT LEADS TO THE HOUSE CHAMBER. IN THE MONTHS SINCE, HE’S BEEN THE TARGET OF THREATS.
LESTER HOLT: Could you give us the nature of some of those threats?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: They talked about, you know, killing me, cutting off my head. You know, very vicious and cruel things.
LESTER HOLT: Racist things?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: There were some racist attacks as well. It’s all disheartening because I know I was doing my job.
LESTER HOLT: Given the nature of the threats that you describe, do you have any concern about showing your face and identifying yourself?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: Of course, I do. That is a very vital point. And it’s something that is frightening. I believe I showed the utmost courage on January 6th. And it’s time for me to do that now.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: RESPONSIBLE THAT DAY FOR SECURING THE HOUSE CHAMBERS, BYRD COULDN’T SEE WHAT AMERICANS WERE WITNESSING ON THEIR TVS BUT HE COULD HEAR IT IN THE PLEAS FROM OTHER OFFICERS.
LESTER HOLT: Were you afraid that day?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I was very afraid.
LESTER HOLT: What are you hearing on your radio?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I’m hearing about the breaches of different barricaded areas, officers being overrun, officers being down.
LESTER HOLT: Did you ever hear a call or a report of shots fired during any of this?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: As a matter of fact, I did. There was reports of shots fired through the House main door, onto the floor of the chamber.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: LATER THOSE REPORTS WOULD PROVE TO BE FALSE. THIS VIDEO CAPTURING BYRD INSTRUCTING MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO DON GAS MASKS.
Byrd in cell phone video from January 6, 2021: “We’ve had a disbursement of tear gas in the rotunda. Please be advised there are masks under your seat”
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: HE SAYS OFFICERS BARRICADED THE DOOR. WHAT HE CONSIDERED THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE.
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I had been yelling and screaming as loud as I was, “Please stop. Get back. Get back. Stop.” We had our weapons drawn.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: BYRD,ONLY HIS HAND AND GUN VISIBLE, TARGETED A FIGURE TRYING TO CLIMB THROUGH A WINDOW.
HE FIRED A SINGLE FATAL SHOT HITTING ASHLI BABBIT. SHE WAS 35 YEARS OLD, AN AIR FORCE VETERAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER AND QANON FOLLOWER.
LESTER HOLT: We see your arm out there for a considerable amount of time. Were you wavering?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I was again taking a tactical stance. You’re ultimately hoping your commands will be complied with and unfortunately they were not.
LESTER HOLT: When you fired, what could you see? Where were you aiming?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: You’re taught to aim for center mass. The subject was sideways and I couldn’t see her full motion of her hands or anything. So I guess her movement caused the discharge to fall where it did.
LESTER HOLT: And what did you think this individual was doing at that moment?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: She was posing a threat to the House of Representatives.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER: BUT AN ATTORNEY FOR ASHLI BABBITT’S FAMILY DISPUTES THAT. HE DID NOT RESPOND TO OUR REQUESTS FOR COMMENT BUT IN A PREVIOUS STATEMENT SAID BABBIT “WAS NOT BRANDISHING A WEAPON,” NOT IN CLOSE PROXIMITY” TO MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, AND WAS “NOT AN IMMINENT THREAT OF DEATH OR SERIOUS INJURY TO ANYONE.”
LESTER HOLT: Her family points out that she was not armed.
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: That’s correct.
LESTER HOLT: The fact that you weren’t aware whether she was armed or not, did that alter the decision making?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: It did not.
LESTER HOLT: What are we to make of the fact that there were other officers in potentially life threatening situations who didn’t use their service weapons that day?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I’m sure it was a terrifying situation. And I can only control my reaction, my training, my expertise. That would be upon them to speak for themselves.
LESTER HOLT: Former President Trump has talked about you and this incident. He says she was murdered. What does it feel like to hear that from a former president?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: Well it’s disheartening. If he was in the room or anywhere and I’m responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family.
LESTER HOLT: Would you have his back today if you were so assigned?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I sure would because it’s my job.
LESTER HOLT: As I said, your name has been on the internet for some time in an unofficial way. Lotta rumors, lotta accusations, one of which is that you had some sort of political motive. You were a political —
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: No.
LESTER HOLT: — operative.
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: I do my job for Republican, for Democrat, for white, for Black, red, blue, green.
LESTER HOLT: A few years ago, you were investigated for leaving your service weapon in a bathroom. And that’s been brought up by those who are questioning your competency. You want to respond to that?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: Sure. It was a terrible mistake. I acknowledged it. I owned up to it. I accepted the responsibility. I was penalized for it. And I moved on.
LESTER HOLT VOICE OVER : MULTIPLE INVESTIGATIONS HAVE NOW UPHELD BRYD’S ACTIONS ON JANUARY 6TH.
LESTER HOLT: Capitol Police in their press release after exonerating you said your actions potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death. What was it like to hear those words, to see those words?
LIEUTENANT MICHAEL BYRD: Those words meant a lot because that’s exactly what I did on that day. That was my mission. That was what I prepared for. And it’s rewarding and refreshing to hear that.
More than 570 people face criminal charges related to the attack, which resulted in at least five deaths and temporarily sent lawmakers into hiding as they sought to formalize Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report. Updated at 4:49 p.m. Aug. 26, 2021