In an update to a post from earlier this week, the U.S. Capitol Police chief issued a statement in response to Rep. Troy Nehls’ complaint that his office is under intrusive surveillance. The chief’s statement doesn’t bring the clarity that he may think it does to the situation.
Rep. Nehls (R-TX) is in his first term as a member of the House, sworn in only three days before the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. He is a former sheriff in Fort Bend County in the Houston area. When Capitol Hill Police instructed members of Congress to evacuate the House chamber as rioters began to try to force their way into the room, Nehls made the decision to remain with his “brothers in blue” and do whatever he could to help. There is a photo from that time of Nehls talking through the closed door to rioters telling them that Capitol Police had their guns drawn and would shoot them if they breached the room. He was clearly on the side of law enforcement that day.
I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Capitol police barricading entrance to our sacred House chamber, while trying to calm the situation talking to protestors.
What I’m witnessing is a disgrace. We’re better than this. Violence is NEVER the answer.
Law and order! pic.twitter.com/SgN2F8YGIS
— Troy Nehls (@SheriffTNehls) January 6, 2021
That is Nehls in the blue shirt. Instead of thanking him for keeping a cool head and supporting Capitol Police in that moment, it turns out that Nehls’ office is the subject of some unusual surveillance activity. We still don’t know why Capitol Police entered his congressional office and took photos of a whiteboard used in brainstorming legislative material product during the Thanksgiving recess. The office was vacant as it was Saturday. Capitol Police returned on Monday, dressed as construction workers, according to a staffer. The police were not expecting anyone to be there, apparently, and ended up questioning the staffer who was in the office about the writing on the whiteboard. All of this was highly unusual and Nehls reported the intrusion.
Here is Chief Manger’s statement on the complaint lodged by Nehls:
This morning a U.S. Representative complained about one of our vigilant officers. Chief Manger stands by his officer.
“The United States Capitol Police is sworn to protect Members of Congress. If a Member’s office is left open and unsecured, without anyone inside the office, USCP officers are directed to document that and secure the office to ensure nobody can wander in and steal or do anything else nefarious. The weekend before Thanksgiving, one of our vigilant officers spotted the Congressman’s door was wide open. That Monday, USCP personnel personally followed up with the Congressman’s staff and determined no investigation or further action of any kind was needed. No case investigation was ever initiated or conducted into the Representative or his staff.” – U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger
We want congressional offices to be secure. In my previous post, I mentioned that it isn’t unusual for a police officer on security duty to check out an open door when normally the door would be closed. Remember, this was during the Thanksgiving recess so most offices were empty. Manger’s statement addresses the open door as the excuse for the security patrol officer to enter the congressman’s office. It doesn’t explain why the officer whipped out a camera and took photos of confidential congressional work product. It doesn’t address why the officers were dressed as construction workers when they returned to the office and it doesn’t explain why they questioned the staffer about the contents on the whiteboard. None of that is normal behavior during routine security patrols.
Rep. Nehls isn’t buying the explanation. He called it a “bold-faced lie”. His office released a statement.
“No case investigation was ever initiated or conducted into the Representative or his staff.”
That is a bold faced lie. https://t.co/IyfArXfTRH
— Congressman Troy Nehls (@RepTroyNehls) February 8, 2022
“The issue is not whether or not the officer entered the office legally, the issue was the ‘vigilant’ officer in question took a photo of private Congressional material that is protected under Article I Section 6 of the speech and debate clause in the US constitution,” Francesca Granato, a spokesperson for Nehls, said in a statement. “Imagine leaving your front door open and police officers enter your private home, take pictures of the inside, and then open a criminal investigation based on those pictures.”
“How can Chief Manger issue a statement, and fail to mention the photograph that was illegally taken?,” Granato added.
It turns out that just days before the unusual surveillance of Nehls’ office, a Washington Post article reported a story about a rural Texas man who was a would-be defense contractor. The man tried to pass off Chinese-made body armor as American-made equipment for a sale to the State Department and U.S. law enforcement partners in Latin America. Allegedly, the Capitol Police officer noticed something about body armor on the whiteboard. Nehls’ staff was considering drafting legislation banning the procurement of Chinese body armor. Regardless, the officer was photographing work product without permission during a routine security check. It’s fishy.
Some House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Committee on House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren asking for an investigation into reports of Capitol Police monitoring lawmakers and citizens.
The letter points to an explosive POLITICO report, saying that the Capitol Police reportedly “monitoring Members of Congress, their staff, constituents, and supporters raises serious constitutional concerns.”
The Republicans wrote that the report revealed the Capitol Police are also “monitoring the online activity of congressional staff and individuals who meet with Members of Congress” and that the force is “reviewing property tax information” to learn the owners of the buildings “where the meetings take place” as well as “reviewing online information to determine if any of the meeting attendees have contacts with foreign nationals.”
“Additionally, Capitol Police were directed to look for information on donors and staff ‘that would cast a member in a negative light,’” the letter reads.
“If true, these allegations are serious violations of Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties,” it continues. “Our constituents have the right to petition Congress and they should be able to exercise this right without fear that Capitol Police will scrutinize their property taxes, social media, or relationships.”
Is this just overreach in response to the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, when Capitol Police were caught woefully unprepared, despite warnings in advance that something may happen on that day? Is Pelosi sending Capitol Police out to gather information that may or may not be relevant as a why to divert attention to her failure to act on an alleged request made by then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving requesting her approval before granting the Capitol police chief’s request to call in the National Guard? That question should be answered.
Senator Rick Scott also has a story of overreach in intelligence gathering.
Analysts also were tasked with sifting through tax and real estate records to find out who owned the properties that lawmakers visited. For example, the unit scrutinized a meeting that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) held with donors in a private home. Analysts eyed the homeowner’s and attendees’ social media accounts, and looked for any foreign contacts they had.
“These reports are incredibly disturbing,” Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis said in a statement. “It is unthinkable that any government entity would conduct secret investigations to build political dossiers on private Americans. The American people deserve to know what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi knew and directed, and when. Senator Scott believes the Senate Rules Committee should immediately investigate.”
Perhaps Republicans can get to the bottom of all this when they take back control of the House after the midterm elections. Something isn’t right here.
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