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Capitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns

Capitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns
© Greg Nash

The Capitol Police’s failure to prepare for the Jan. 6 insurrection will be back in the spotlight this week when its inspector general testifies before lawmakers about his latest findings, all while the House aims to consider a supplemental funding bill for Capitol security this month.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton is set to testify before the House Administration Committee on Monday afternoon about the police force’s threat assessment and counter-surveillance operations before and after the Jan. 6 attack.

Bolton is expected to tell lawmakers that his team found “deficiencies” with outdated or vague guidance, as well as “insufficient resources” and staffing for keeping up with counter-surveillance operations and threat assessments. 

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As a result, according to Bolton, the Capitol Police didn’t adequately collect or analyze “stop or contact reports,” which “may have impeded its ability to identify trends or patterns that warranted further investigation or dissemination” ahead of Jan. 6.

To help ensure that the Capitol Police stays ahead of future threats, Bolton’s team is recommending that the force establish a stand-alone entity “with a defined mission dedicated to counter-surveillance activities in support of protecting the Congressional Community and that is adequately staffed to accomplish its mission.”

The Capitol Police acknowledged in response to the inspector general report that a "stand-alone counter-surveillance unit would be valuable" and that it could rely more on the FBI for threat assessments. But it also emphasized that bolstering its own threat assessment operations would require considerably more resources for hiring and training new employees to handle the workload.

And to underscore the challenge facing the Capitol Police, the department said Friday that threats against members of Congress are already up 107 percent — or more than doubled — compared to last year.

"Provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase," the Capitol Police said in a statement.

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenPelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Democrats plot next move after GOP sinks Jan. 6 probe This week: House to vote on Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission MORE (D-Calif.) said that the inspector general's latest report “identified troubling deficiencies” in Capitol Police operations, vowing that her panel would continue its oversight efforts.

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Bolton’s latest appearance before Congress won’t be the only effort by lawmakers this week to review what went wrong leading up to Jan. 6 and how to prevent another violent attack on the Capitol.

The Architect of the Capitol’s inspector general will also appear before the House Administration Committee on Wednesday to discuss the agency’s emergency preparedness.

Funding for fortifying the Capitol building is expected to be a significant part of the supplemental spending bill that could hit the House floor as soon as next week.

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s supporters managed to breach the Capitol by breaking exterior windows with repurposed items like flagpoles or even their own bare fists, underscoring the urgency of making it more difficult for future would-be attackers.

Also on Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing focused on the Trump administration’s preparations and response to the Jan. 6 attack, as well as those of local law enforcement. Witnesses slated to testify so far include former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee.

It will serve as the high-profile committee’s first hearing to review the events of Jan. 6, following witnesses who’ve appeared before the House Administration and Appropriations committees and their Senate counterparts.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi signals no further action against Omar Overnight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias MORE (D-Md.) said that “if it is ready,” lawmakers will consider a bill in the coming days to “address enhanced security needs for the Capitol complex” and establish a 9/11-style commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6.

Aside from funding to make physical enhancements to the Capitol building, the package is expected to provide money to address individual member security and bolster the Capitol Police’s resources, including to hire more officers.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroNRCC chairman, Texas lawmakers among top earmark requesters The COVID-19 crisis may soon be over, but the youth mental health crisis is only just beginning Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill MORE (D-Conn.) said during a briefing with the Brookings Institution that she expects to brief lawmakers early this week on the supplemental funding bill.

Legislation to establish a commission to investigate the insurrection, meanwhile, remains mired in partisan disagreements over the scope.

Republicans are demanding that such a commission include a review of left-wing extremism, as many continue to try to downplay Trump’s role or echo his false claims of election fraud themselves.

But Democrats — and some Republicans like Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn Cheney House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Cheney compares Trump claims to Chinese Communist Party: 'It's very dangerous' Stefanik pregnant with her first child MORE (Wyo.), who’s on the verge of being ousted from House GOP leadership this week for rejecting Trump’s baseless election claims — insist that the commission focus solely on the attack by the mob of the former president’s supporters.

“I continue to believe — as do Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar MORE and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney — that Congress must establish a commission focused on the January 6 insurrection,” Lofgren said.

The Capitol Police inspector general’s previous two reports focused on the department’s intelligence-gathering operations and the Civil Disturbance Unit that is tasked with responding to protests, finding there was a failure to disseminate warnings of danger on Jan. 6 and properly maintain equipment.

Bolton issued a series of recommendations alongside those reports calling for all Capitol Police employees to get security clearances and receive classified briefings on emerging threats, as well as that the Civil Disturbance Unit conducts periodic safety inspections to ensure equipment isn’t defective.

Lawmakers are reviewing recommendations from the Capitol Police inspector general’s previous reports, as well as those from a team led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré.

The report from Honoré, who was tapped by Pelosi, calls for installing a retractable fence that can go up around the Capitol during emergencies, giving the Capitol Police chief authority to enlist National Guard assistance, equip Capitol Police officers with body cameras and add more explosive-detection dogs.