(USA Features) The Capitol Police officer who shot and killed unarmed Jan. 6. protester Ashli Babbitt, Lt. Michael Byrd, told NBC News in an exclusive interview Thursday evening showed “utmost courage” and did his job to protect House lawmakers.
“I showed the utmost courage on January 6, and its time for me to do that now,” Byrd, a 28-year veteran of the force, told anchor Lester Holt.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” he said, referring to some 60 to 80 members of Congress who were supposedly still in or around the chamber when a group of protesters broke glass on a door leading to an anteroom near the House chamber and tried to get inside.
“I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job,” Byrd continued.
He said he did not know Babbitt was unarmed at the time, adding he didn’t learn that until hours later.
“I was taking a tactical stance. You’re ultimately hoping that your commands will be complied with, and ultimately they were not,” he said.
Babbitt’s family attorney has said that Byrd never warned Ashli before firing, though Byrd says he yelled several times for her to stay back and shot her only “as a last resort.”
“You’re taught to aim for center mass the subject was sideways, and I could not see the full motion of her hands or anything so I guess her movement caused the discharge to fall where it did,” he told Holt.
“‘I tried to wait as long as I could. I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors,” said Byrd.
“But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers,” he said.
Asked by Holt about former President Donald Trump’s characterization of the shooting as a “murder,” Byrd demurred.
“It’s disheartening, if he was in the room or anywhere and I was responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same for him,” he said.
Babbitt was the only person killed that day.
Holt asked Byrd why no other officers opened fire on Babbitt or anyone else trying to get through the doors.
“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,” he said.
Holt also asked Byrd about a report that he left his service weapon in a Capitol bathroom.
“‘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,” he said.
An investigation by Capitol Police concluded this week that Byrd was not at fault for the shooting and cleared him of any further disciplinary action.
But his identity had remained under wraps officially until his interview with Holt, with Capitol Police refusing to release his name out of fear for his safety.
That didn’t stop speculation that it may have been him, however.
“Who was the person who shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman?” Trump asked in June.
Some media outlets reportedly knew Byrd’s identity for months but refused to report it.