WASHINGTON (AP) — A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection, U.S. Capitol Police officers are facing increasingly heated and baseless allegations from House Republicans that the department’s officers are operating as politically driven spies. The rhetoric is complicating the force’s effort to win back public confidence.
The latest tumult occurred Tuesday, when Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas accused the Capitol Police of having “illegally” investigated his office in November. Both Nehls and the police agree on basic facts about the incident in question that indicate no laws were broken when an officer entered Nehls' office.
But in a Fox News interview, Nehls alleged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, “is weaponizing the U.S. Capitol Police to investigate me, to try to silence me, intimidate me, and quite honestly, to destroy me.” He provided no evidence for that claim and Pelosi noted Wednesday that she has “no power over the Capitol Police.”
While far more attention has been paid to the committee looking back at the insurrection, the U.S. Capitol Police is undergoing a quieter reform process to fix its intelligence and operational failures on Jan. 6. The department is collecting more data and changing its processes for sharing and acting on information about threats.
Some Republicans have attacked both the efforts to look back on the insurrection and the Capitol Police's measures to go forward in stopping a future attack. More than two dozen Republicans on Wednesday demanded in a letter to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger that the department preserve any records “related to any investigations or investigative activity into members of Congress and congressional staff.”
But speaking to The Associated Press Tuesday, Manger said there are no such investigations of Nehls or anyone else, adding that his officers are being used for partisan purposes.
“Frankly, I’ve been a police chief for over 21 years, and I have never allowed politics to influence my decisions,” he said. “I feel like the men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police are being dragged into partisan differences, and that’s unfair to them and it’s unfair to this department.”
Manger strenuously denied that his officers spied on Nehls, a former sheriff of Fort Bend County in suburban Houston. Promoting that unfounded theory could put his officers at increased risk, Manger said.
“When people portray these officers in a way that’s not true, not fair, it undermines the confidence that the public has in my officers as well,” Manger said. “And that is a disservice to the men and women of this department.”
A Capitol officer patrolling the halls of the Longworth House Office Building on Nov. 20 noticed the door to Nehls' office was open and entered the office to check for intruders. The officer found no intrusion, but noticed a whiteboard that had a hand-drawn map of the neighboring Rayburn office building with an “X” marked on it. The whiteboard also had notes about “body armor.”
The officer took a photo of the whiteboard and filed a report that notes “suspicious writings mentioning body armor.” Two days later, officers returned to Nehls' office and spoke to his staff about the whiteboard. The case was then closed.
“There was no investigation into any member or staff,” Manger said. “I called the congressman the next day and said, ‘Here’s what happened. At no time were you or your staff under investigation. We were just making sure that nobody had gotten into your office and disturbed anything.’”
Nehls told the AP on Tuesday that a staffer had drawn the map to show an intern where the ice machine could be found in Rayburn because the machine in Longworth wasn’t working. And his office was working on legislation related to obtaining body armor for law enforcement.
Nehls conceded that the officer had the legal right to enter his office to be sure no one was in there who shouldn't have been. “I have told Chief Manger very clearly: I’ve never questioned the officers’ legal authority to be in my office,” he said.
But Nehls said the officer should not have looked at his whiteboard and challenged Manger to release the photo.
“They had no authority to photograph my office, let alone investigate myself or members of my staff,” Nehls wrote on Twitter.
Like many big-city police departments, the Capitol Police balances its law enforcement operations with the demands of elected officials who oversee its budget and policies. Some officers have long felt that political imperatives from both Democrats and Republicans have held back requests for better equipment, training and necessary security measures. Steven Sund, who resigned as Capitol Police chief after the insurrection, has alleged former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving was concerned about the “optics” of calling the National Guard prior to Jan. 6. Irving said Sund's account was “categorically false.”
The Capitol Police has acknowledged failing to act on clear warnings that far-right groups and extremists loyal to former President Donald Trump would rally at the Capitol as lawmakers inside certified his loss to President Joe Biden. Its officers were left unprepared to stop thousands of people who broke through police lines and stormed the building.
More than 100 police officers were injured on Jan. 6. One officer was beaten and shocked repoeatedly with a stun gun until he had a heart attack; rioters crushed another officer between two doors and bashed him in the head with his own weapon. The riot delayed for several hours the certification of Biden's victory.
Since then, a Capitol Police officer was killed when a man rammed his car into him and another officer at a barricade in April and officers have dealt with a score of high-profile threats, including a man who pulled up outside the Capitol and claimed to have a bomb, leading to evacuations and an hours-long standoff.
Threats to lawmakers and the building also have surged. Last year, Capitol Police investigated around 9,600 threats made against members of Congress. In 2017, there were fewer than 4,000.
Some Republicans have criticized the department’s use of open-source information from the internet to screen for potential threats when members of Congress hold events. Some have gone so far as to accuse the police force of “spying” on them.
The department says officers use socially media profiles and other publicly available information to evaluate whether an event or meeting might be potentially dangerous or pose a threat. Researching open-source information is routine practice for major law enforcement agencies.
The Capitol Police says it does not research individual lawmakers or conduct criminal background checks on attendees, lawmakers, or staff, other than for major events like the State of the Union speech or when a congressional office makes a specific request.
“We’re not spying on people. We’re not spying on members. We’re not spying on staff,” Manger said. “We’re not doing background checks on people that they meet with. We are doing none of that.”
By MICHAEL BALSAMO and NOMAAN MERCHANT Associated Press
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