U.S Capitol Riots: Federal Investigators Are Examining Communications Between Lawmakers And Rioters

The data collected so far includes indications of contact with lawmakers in the days leading up to Jan. 6, as well as communications between suspected rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress, the official said.

The existence of such communications does not necessarily indicate wrongdoing on the part of lawmakers, and investigators are not yet targeting members of Congress in the investigation, the official said. If investigators find probable cause why lawmakers or their staff possibly aided the insurgents, they could seek warrants to obtain the content of the communications. There is no indication that they have taken that step at this time.

With around 300 people facing charges, the investigation has gone from summarizing what law enforcement officials consider easy arrests of people accused of participating in the riots to those who allegedly conspired and planned the assault to disrupt the constitutional process. congressional certification. of the electoral results.

Justice Department officials have assigned more than two dozen prosecutors, including some from outside Washington, to delve into more complex issues, including possible funding for insurgents and whether political figures, including lawmakers and staff, assisted in the attack. said the US official.

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Law enforcement officials say one of the first steps taken after the insurrection was to search for data from cell phone towers to try to identify people on Capitol Hill that day, a tactic allowed by existing law. That was necessary, officials say, because among the multiple failures that day was the United States Capitol Police in allowing the hundreds of people who had attacked the building to leave without arrest.

Authorities announced only a handful of arrests on January 6, and the FBI and other agencies subsequently used a nationwide trawl to find the rioters.

Law enforcement officers have used what they call an “exclusion list.” The list allows investigators to view mobile devices that were authorized to be on Capitol Hill, such as members of Congress and staff, law enforcement, and other government and public safety officials, while targeting individuals who were not authorized. to be in the building. according to a federal court that filed a riot-related case.

The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The FBI’s collection of phone metadata and geolocator data, permitted by federal law, was the subject of multiple question lines this week by some senators who pressured FBI Director Christopher Wray to reveal what they were doing. investigators with communications and financial data. Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri suggested in a hearing Tuesday that the FBI may be overstepping its authority by collecting communications data.

Investigators also have security footage from the Capitol Police that Democrats want scrutinized to see if any members conducted tours of riot participants before Jan.6. Democrats have accused unidentified Republicans of providing access to rally-goers, suggesting they were surveillance opportunities before the riot.

Other lawmakers have a separate concern, that as investigators get closer to the activities of lawmakers, some members of Congress could use the protections of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause to try to block the work of the FBI. The clause grants legal immunity to members of Congress in the performance of their legislative functions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, says he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate because he believes Congress will be able to obtain information that the FBI might have trouble obtaining due to Speech or Debate protections.

Whitehouse, in a telephone interview with CNN, says his effort is aimed at “making sure this is not an investigation that is limited to the people who robbed and entered the Capitol on January 6,” adding that “possible culpability of members of Congress “has to be investigated.

The new phase of the federal investigation follows the lines that federal officials outlined after the attack. Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said that after the initial stage of arresting the rioters, prosecutors and investigators would begin to examine more difficult aspects: including funding and organizing the riot, possible interviews with lawmakers and even if President Donald Trump’s incitement to the rally before the riot broke the law. Prosecutors have also pushed to press charges of sedition against some suspected rioters, a step that awaits the approval of the Justice Department, according to people briefed on the matter.

Sherwin has announced that he will move to the Justice Department to help manage the cases for a period, while the department sets a longer-term plan for an expanding investigation that will span months.

Justice officials are aware of the political and constitutional implications of parts of the investigation, particularly those affecting members of Congress, according to law enforcement officials.

So far, investigators have found no evidence that members of Congress knowingly aided or been involved in the insurrection, the US official said. The FBI has seized devices belonging to suspected rioters and found communications showing connections that investigators plan to further examine.

In some cases, there is data showing past contacts with legislators, and in others there is communications between alleged rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress. Some alleged rioters have also claimed to have provided security to lawmakers.

In a case against an alleged leader of the right-wing paramilitary group The Oath Keepers, a defendant claimed that she was enlisted to provide security for lawmakers and others on their march to the Capitol.

None of this necessarily indicates wrongdoing on the part of lawmakers, the US official said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wray said he could not provide details on the specific steps the FBI has taken while the investigation is ongoing.

When asked by Hawley about the FBI’s use of cell phone tower metadata and other information, Wray said, “I’m sure we are using various legal authorities to examine the metadata.”

Hawley, who helped lead the effort to block Congressional certification of the election results during the riot, expressed frustration: “How are we going to know what he’s doing with him and how are we going to assess the conduct of the office? if we don’t? “You don’t know what authorities you’re invoking, what exactly you’re doing, what you’re withholding?” Hawley said. “You’re basically saying ‘trust us.’

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.


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