National Security

Anonymous Capitol Police letter to spur support for Jan. 6 probe causes stir

A last-minute Democratic effort to drum up support for a Jan. 6 investigative commission caused a brief stir on Capitol Hill on Wednesday when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) released a letter from unnamed Capitol Police officers attacking GOP leaders for their opposition to the bill launching the probe. 

The anonymous letter on official Capitol Police letterhead was sent to congressional offices shortly before the House voted to approve the bipartisan proposal that would create a 9/11-style commission to examine the Capitol riot of Jan. 6.

It was notably partisan, expressing a "profound disappointment" in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who have emerged this week as vocal opponents of the legislation.

"It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th," the letter read.

It was signed, cryptically, by "Proud Members of the United States Capitol Police."

Raskin says officers who dropped off the letter with his office claimed it represented about 40-50 of their colleagues, though neither he nor The Hill were able to verify the number.

Raskin's office sent the missive to congressional chiefs of staff just after 4:30 p.m., roughly two hours before the House would vote on the legislation. 

"Mr. Raskin is hoping your bosses will read this letter, and consider the sentiments behind it, before the vote," read an accompanying email. 

But it wasn't just the message that caused a stir. That the letter appeared to be composed on official Capitol Police letterhead prompted confusion about whether the department had taken the extraordinary step of inserting itself into an explosive legislative debate just hours before House lawmakers were to vote on the bill.

The resulting uproar forced Capitol Police officials to issue a hasty tweet on the official department account, pushing back stiffly against the notion that the letter might speak for the department at large.

"A statement is circulating on social media, which expresses an opinion about the proposed legislation to create a commission to investigate January 6. This is NOT an official USCP statement," the tweet read. "The Department has not way of confirming it was even authored by USCP personnel. The U.S. Capitol Police does NOT take positions on legislation." 

The commotion subsided within a few hours. But the brief episode - fueled by social media, heated emotions and a general distrust between the parties - was emblematic of the toxic atmosphere on Capitol Hill, where the tensions stemming from the Jan. 6 attack still linger four months after the event. 

The effect of Raskin's lobbying tactic is impossible to gauge. But the legislation sailed through the House by a vote of 252 to 175, with 35 Republicans bucking McCarthy, former President Trump and other party leaders to support the measure. 

In an impassioned speech before the vote, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the Republican who had negotiated the bipartisan agreement, called on lawmakers of both parties to set aside politics - and honor Capitol Hill's police force - by supporting the bill. 

"Imagine being a family member of these officers who do this," he said. "So let's take a deep breath and think about what's really important here. These people every single day are willing to lay down their lives for us. They deserve better."

After the vote, Raskin hailed the unnamed officers who had come to his office, he said, to deliver their letter.

"They were traumatized by the events, and they've been extremely upset about the dissension within Congress over doing such an obvious thing as having a commission to get to the bottom of these events," Raskin said.

"But they need a voice, and that's the problem," he continued. "They're not supposed to be political. And they normally are not political. But they were involved in essentially medieval combat for four or five hours and had people beating them up and spitting on them and throwing mace in their face and so on. And so they feel very strongly about the situation.

"Somehow their voice is going to have to be heard," he added.

Hundreds of lawmakers were affected by the Jan. 6 rampage, but Raskin is more invested than most. Not only was he the lead Democratic prosecutor in Trump's subsequent impeachment trial, but his Maryland district, which borders Washington, is home to "at least dozens" of Capitol Police officers, by his estimation.   

"They are sort of the unheard voice in this whole thing, and they were on the front lines defending us with their lives," he said. "I hope that Congress will find appropriate outlets for them to speak publicly and not be afraid that they'll get in trouble for doing it." 

On just one point was Raskin critical of the letter-writing police officers. 

"They should not have used the letterhead, obviously," he said, laughing.

"But put it this way," he quickly added. "Their offense is barely a comma in the encyclopedia of crimes on Jan. 6. So I don't think too many of my colleagues should be that upset about the fact that they used their official department letterhead."

"Apparently they don't have their own," he said.

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