WASHINGTON — A growing number of House Democrats are calling for an investigation into whether their Republican colleagues aided President Trump’s supporters who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to overturn the results of last year’s election.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., told Yahoo News that many of his Democratic colleagues are discussing the possibility Republican House members played a role in the attacks.
“I would hope no member did this, but the truth is there are more questions than answers; what kind of communications did people have with members? Did members give them a heads up about certain things like which entrances to use or other intelligence before or during the attack?” Richmond asked, adding, “That’s a real concern and I’ve heard many people talk about that.”
Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., a freshman member of Congress, told Yahoo News he wants to see an investigation into the role his Republican colleagues might have played in the attacks.
“Many of my colleagues and I feel strongly that Donald Trump’s most egregious enablers in Congress should be investigated for their complicity in the insurrection against the United States,” Torres said.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol following a rally the president held on the National Mall. During a speech to the crowd, Trump reiterated his false claim that his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden was fraudulent.
Trump also urged the crowd to “fight like hell” and indicated he knew they planned to march on to the Capitol, where lawmakers were certifying Biden’s victory. The subsequent riots briefly stopped the electoral certification. Five deaths have been linked to the violence, including that of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was reportedly struck by a fire extinguisher, and Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter who was shot by law enforcement. On Wednesday evening, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for his role in inciting the riot.
Concerns about potential involvement from Republican members gained steam on Tuesday evening after Rep. Mikie Sherill, D-N.J., claimed she witnessed “members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 for reconnaissance for the next day.” Sherill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, detailed her claims further on Wednesday evening in a letter she and her colleagues, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Rep. Katherine Clark, sent to officials charged with securing the Capitol.
That letter suggested multiple members observed “suspicious” groups being given tours of the Capitol complex the day before the attack. It also claimed these groups were reported to officials at the time.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter said. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
That letter was addressed to the acting sergeants at arms of the House and Senate and the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. It requested information from the officials about visitors to the complex on Jan. 5. Sherill’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The rioters penetrated deep inside the maze-like Capitol complex and reached key locations including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and the chambers of both the House and Senate. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., claimed during an Instagram Live broadcast on Tuesday that she “didn’t feel safe around other members of Congress” when she was evacuated to a secure location during the attack.
“I myself did not even feel safe going to that extraction point because there were QAnons and white supremacist sympathizers and, frankly, white supremacist members of Congress in that extraction point who I know and who I had felt would disclose my location,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez, a high profile progressive who has dealt with previous death threats, also said she had a “very close encounter” that caused her to fear for her life during the attack. She declined to detail that experience further for security reasons. Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Federal law enforcement is currently investigating the Capitol attack and how it might have been coordinated. Many of the rioters who breached the building came prepared with weapons and protective gear. Multiple people have been arrested in conjunction with the attack. In a press conference on Tuesday, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin, who is investigating the Capitol insurrection, suggested there would be disturbing revelations about what took place.
“I think people are going to be shocked with some of the egregious conduct that happened within the Capitol,” Sherwin said.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment about whether it is investigating potential involvement by members of Congress.
At least one Republican member of Congress has a previously unreported connection to a group that led a “caravan” to the Capitol attack. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, participated in a 2018 weapons training with a company in his home state that brought a group to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and his staff participated in a “range day” with a Lisbon, Ohio based company called ATG Worldwide in November 2018. According to its website, ATG offers weapons training courses. The company posted photos on Facebook showing Johnson and his staff firing a variety of guns on its range on Nov. 13, 2018.
“We think he truly enjoyed just putting some rounds downrange and not politicking,” ATG wrote in a message that accompanied the photos.
In a statement to Yahoo News, Johnson characterized his day with ATG as part of his making “it a habit to meet with small business owners in my district.”
“As a 27-year Air Force veteran myself, I particularly enjoy visiting the many veteran owned businesses in eastern and southeastern Ohio. More than two years ago, I stopped by a local gun range owned by a retired Navy SEAL. We talked about my work in Congress, our mutual military experiences, fired guns on his range, and I left. The owner of the business has never been a donor to my campaign,” Johnson said.
ATG Worldwide Director Adam Newbold, a retired Navy SEAL, has reportedly been questioned by the FBI after posting a Facebook video the night of the attack in which he described “breaching the Capitol.” That clip has since been taken down. Neither ATG nor Newbold responded to requests for comment. However, on Tuesday, the company shared a video message from Newbold on its Facebook page. In it, he described being “angry at the direction of our country” and leading a “caravan” to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“ATG organized a caravan to go down to Washington DC and we were organizing to link up with a national caravan coming from all over the country,” Newbold said in the clip. “So, it wasn’t just all ATG members. It wasn’t ATG members plotting and planning to go take over the country. … All we did was plan and we invited anyone who wanted to go down there to ride along with us.”
In that video, Newbold defended his conduct including bringing knives and other equipment in the “caravan.”
“I make no apologies for being a rough man ready to do rough things in rough situations,” he said.
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