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Threats against members increasing, Capitol Police chief says

Rep. Bennie Thompson calls for police to reexamine safety following Trump attacks on Democrats

Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said threats against members of Congress are increasing. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said threats against members of Congress are increasing. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Threats against members of Congress continue to grow, Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said Tuesday at his first appearance as head of the department before the House Administration Committee.

“We continue to see the threat assessment cases that we’re opening continue to grow,” Sund said. “For fiscal year 2018, we had approximately 4,894 cases. So far, for this year, we have 2,502 cases. So we’re on par to probably break last year’s.”

[Steven A. Sund named Capitol Police Chief]

Many first-year members of Congress have extremely high profiles and face threats as a result, including four Democrats whom President Donald Trump has been recently disparaging on Twitter: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson sent a letter to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael C. Stenger, who chairs the Capitol Police Board. The Mississippi Democrat requested Stenger to hold an emergency meeting to reexamine the board’s approach to analyzing the risk environment, setting thresholds for enhanced security for certain targeted members and evaluating threat streams with law enforcement partners in member districts.

“On Sunday, July 14, 2019, President Trump used social media to directly attack four members of Congress,” Thompson wrote. “To date, Trump continues to use social media to vilify these four members.”

Thompson also pointed out that “the president’s rhetoric may insinuate more attacks on members of Congress.”

Tuesday’s hearing came as the House considers a resolution condemning the president’s remarks, which have been widely criticized as racist — although not by House Republican leaders. 

Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk — one of three Republican members of the Administration Committee who was at the GOP baseball practice when a gunman opened fire two years ago — asked Sund about the level of threats directed at members.

“We firsthand witnessed not only the aggression toward us — the shots being fired — but also the bravery by the Capitol Police officers,” Loudermilk said.

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the Administration panel’s top Republican who was also at the 2017 GOP baseball practice, said that without the bravery of the Capitol Police officers, “I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Sund noted that a much lower percentage of threat cases investigated meet the threshold of being a credible threat, but he did not provide an exact percentage breakdown.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving said after the hearing that as members become more prominent in the media, his office provides enhanced support in their districts — by liaising with the district office’s law enforcement coordinator and local law enforcement — when they’re making appearances in public.

UNITED STATES - JULY 16: Paul D. Irving, sergeant at arms of the House of Representatives, testifies during a House Administration Committee hearing on ‘Oversight of the United States Capitol Police’ on Capitol Hill on Tuesday July 16, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving testifies during a House Administration hearing on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Irving said his office previously provided added law enforcement support for high-profile members and those more prone to threats when those members called and informed the office of the threats.

“But we’ve been more proactive in reaching out to members to ensure that they all avail themselves of that service that we provide,” Irving said Tuesday, adding that has been the practice for “at least the last several years.” 

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