Tensions Over Kavanaugh Drive Senate Into Tightened Security
Online posting of personal information, Capitol altercations prompt bigger footprint
Tensions over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and sexual assault allegations against him have driven the Senate to a heightened security posture, as some lawmakers fended off protesters and others saw their personal information released online.
Demonstrators, many of them sexual assault survivors, have flooded the Capitol in recent days to share their stories and urge Republican senators to reject the Kavanaugh nomination. Close-up exchanges between protesters and senators, including in elevators and at airports, have led to additional security measures, especially for Senate Judiciary Committee members.
On Tuesday, Judiciary Republicans John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were protected by uniformed Capitol Police. Graham was also accompanied by Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms James Morhard, one of the top law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill. Last week, teams of uniformed officers were moving alongside Jeff Flake of Arizona and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.
Lawmakers who receive full-time protective details from the Capitol Police include the speaker, majority and minority leaders in both chambers, and the whips in both parties. Other members may receive added protection in response to specific threats, but otherwise spend much of their time outside the Capitol complex, including in their home districts, without bodyguards.
Protests weren’t the only concern. Someone with an IP address matching the Capitol complex added Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home addresses in Kentucky and Washington D.C. to his public Wikipedia page.
Watch: Security Increases for Senate Judiciary Members as Tensions Heighten on the Hill
During last week’s hearing with testimony from Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, someone added personal home addresses, home phone numbers, cellphone numbers and email addresses to the public Wikipedia pages of Graham and Orrin G. Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah.
This info was picked up by the @congressedits Twitter account, which automatically broadcasts the private information to thousands of followers. Twitter suspended that account this week. Posting personal information “is considered one of the most serious violations of the Twitter Rules,” according to Twitter’s website.
Capitol Police are aware of the Wikipedia incidents, but would not comment on the department’s response.
The increased security presence was perhaps no more noticeable on Tuesday than outside the Senate Intelligence Committee’s classified meeting space on the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building.
A hallway that would normally attract a small group of national security reporters and a police contingent matching the stature of the executive branch officials meeting with the committee was instead swarming with police officers, who were using an adjacent room as a staging area.
And senators of all stripes were picking up escorts from uniformed officers of the Capitol Police — not just those members of leadership with regular protection or senators like Florida Republican Marco Rubio, who have faced credible threats.
At one point, officers left the hearing room that has been a staging area with a box and a garbage bag filled with the zip-ties police have used as handcuffs for arresting and detaining protestors.
On Tuesday protesters shouted at Graham in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building. Walking through the tunnel that connects that building to the Capitol, Graham told a small group of reporters that he had never seen anything quite like what he was now experiencing.
“This is dangerous. I had somebody that wouldn’t let an elevator shut. An Iraq War veteran. I appreciate his service, but I just have a different opinion of Judge Kavanaugh,” Graham said. “I tried to make that clear.”
The South Carolina Republican, who could be in line to be Judiciary Committee chairman next year, has been among the most vocal defenders of Kavanaugh.
Capitol Police determined that even credentialed Capitol Hill reporters should be kept from interaction with senators. A key throughway where reporters interact with lawmakers outside the Senate chamber and Majority Whip John Cornyn’s office was off-limits to press on Friday.
Capitol Police officers said the large media presence was causing a “life safety issue” to lawmakers, despite the hallway being closed to anyone besides lawmakers, staff and credentialed press.
As for the Kavanaugh confirmation process itself, Tuesday saw little movement, with McConnell finishing up the Senate’s work for the day without moving to limit debate on the nomination.
Under the current timeline, that cloture vote could be as early as Friday — which would be a week after Flake joined with fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to allow time for an additional FBI investigation of sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee.
Attorneys for Ford, who testified before the Judiciary Committee last week and made the first public allegations against Kavanaugh, said Tuesday that she had not been contacted for an FBI interview.
They also released a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FBI General Counsel Dana Boente indicating that Ford’s legal team had reached out with potential witnesses for interviews, well beyond the list of people FBI investigators reportedly planned to question.
Correction 4:07 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misidentified the agency responsible for the security of Cabinet officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.