U.S. Capitol Police are stepping up security at Washington-area transportation hubs and taking other steps to safeguard travelling lawmakers as Congress continues to react to this month’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Capitol Police will be stationed at area airports and Washington’s Union Station railway hub on busy travel days, the House’s chief law enforcement officer wrote in an email obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Timothy P. Blodgett, the acting sergeant-at-arms, wrote that officials were setting up an online portal so lawmakers can notify them of travel plans and urged legislators to report threats and suspicious activity.
“Members and staff should remain vigilant of their surroundings and immediately report anything unusual or suspicious,” said the email, sent late Thursday.
Blodgett said lawmakers have previously been advised that they can use office expense accounts to pay for security to protect their offices and events in their districts and for self-protection while performing official duties. It also cited a 2017 Federal Elections Commission opinion that they can use campaign contributions to install security systems at their homes.
Federal officials, meanwhile, said Friday that two pipe bombs left at the offices of the Republican and Democratic national committees — discovered just before thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol — were actually placed the night before.
The FBI said the investigation had revealed new information, including that the explosive devices were placed outside the two buildings between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, the night before the siege. The devices were not located by law enforcement until the next day.
It is not clear whether that means the pipe bombs were unrelated to the next day’s attack or were part of the riot planning. Both buildings are within a few blocks of the Capitol.
The incident has been particularly concerning for law enforcement as officials step up security preparations ahead of the Senate’s impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump. For weeks, investigators have been worried about the potential for attacks on soft targets in the nation’s capital.
The FBI released additional photos of the explosive devices on Friday, including a photograph that showed one of the devices placed underneath a bush. Officials have also increased the reward in the case to $100,000 US.
Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s office in Washington, said earlier this week that locating the person who planted the pipe bombs was a top priority for federal agents, though officials have only released grainy surveillance camera images of a potential suspect.
On Friday, the FBI said the person wore a grey hooded sweatshirt, a face mask and Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers in yellow, black and grey, and had been carrying a backpack.
‘Enemy is within the House,’ Pelosi says
President Joe Biden is in “close touch” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, about congressional security, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Pelosi told reporters Thursday that lawmakers face threats of violence from an “enemy” within Congress and said money would be needed to improve security. The California Democrat’s comments were a startling acknowledgment of escalating internal tensions between the two parties over safety since the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters.
Also Thursday, the acting chief of the Capitol Police said “vast improvements” are needed to protect the Capitol and adjacent office buildings, including permanent fencing.
Such barricades have ringed the complex since the deadly Jan. 6 riot, but many lawmakers have long resisted giving the nation’s symbol of democracy the look of a besieged compound, and leaders were noncommittal about the idea.
Pelosi focused her comments on the anxiety and partisan frictions that have persisted in Congress since Trump supporters’ assault on the Capitol, which led to five deaths. She told reporters she thinks Congress will need to provide money “for more security for members, when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about.”
Asked to clarify what she meant, Pelosi said, “It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”
Some lawmakers who voted for this month’s House impeachment of Trump have reported receiving threats, and initial moves to enhance safety procedures have taken on clear partisan undertones. Some Republicans have loudly objected to having to pass through newly installed metal detectors before entering the House chamber, while Pelosi has proposed fining lawmakers who bypass the devices.
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Pelosi did not say whom she meant by her reference to an “enemy” within the House, and a spokesperson provided no examples.
First-term Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for baseless QAnon conspiracy theories, has liked Facebook posts that advocated for violence against Democrats and the FBI. One post suggested shooting Pelosi in the head.
Asked to comment, the Republican from Georgia sent a written statement accusing Democrats and journalists of attacking her because she is “a threat to their goal of Socialism” and supports Trump and conservative values.