House Republican Calls for Open Hearings on Surveillance of Representatives, Staffers

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.
February 8, 2022Updated: February 9, 2022

Congressional officials should “put the brakes” on controversial U.S. Capitol internal security programs and convene a public hearing “for members of Congress and the public to weigh in,” according to Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).

The North Dakota Republican’s comment followed revelations from two other House members about what appears to be unconstitutional monitoring of representatives’ office operations and constituent mail by the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

In the first case, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said in a statement: “In January, my staff received a letter addressed to my official office from a Christian missionary, which was already opened and stamped ‘DOJ MAILROOM’ with a date and ‘X-RAYED’ on the stamp.

“Last week, my office received a second piece of mail from a constituent, mailed from east Texas and postmarked September 2021. It took four-and-a-half months to reach my office, and was also opened and bore a stamp from the DOJ.

“It is gravely concerning that since congressional mail is constitutionally protected under the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, it could be routed, intentionally or not, through the highly partisan DOJ. This is felonious behavior.”

A Gohmert spokesman told The Epoch Times on Feb. 8 that no explanation has been received from postal officials about how mail addressed to a member of Congress could instead be delivered to and opened by the DOJ.

“Given reports breaking today of an Inspector General’s investigation being opened after another Republican member alleged that Speaker Pelosi’s Capitol Police were in his personal office photographing his work product, the Democrats’ spying on political opponents appears to know no end,” Gohmert added in his statement.

Gohmert was referring to Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), who described in a Feb. 8 series of tweets multiple incidents involving USCP personnel entering his office in the Longworth House Office Building in November 2021.

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In a file photo, clouds form above the U.S. Capitol in between rain showers on the National Mall on March 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

“The @CapitolPolice Intelligence Division investigated my office illegally, and one of my staffers caught them in the act,” Nehls wrote in one of the tweets. “On November 20th, 2021, Capitol Police entered my office without my knowledge and photographed confidential legislative products protected by the Speech and Debate clause enshrined in the Constitution, Article 1 Section 6.”

“Two days later, on Monday November 22, 2021 (Thanksgiving week), three intelligence officers attempted to enter my office while the House was in recess. Upon discovering a member of my staff, special agents dressed like construction workers began to question him as to the contents of a photograph taken illegally two days earlier.”

Asked about House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker’s establishment of an “Insider Threat Awareness” internal congressional surveillance initiative, Nehls told The Epoch Times on Feb. 8 that “it’s hard to trust anybody in Washington, D.C., whether it’s General Walker or [USCP] Chief Tom Manger. It’s too bad, but there’s just so much deceit; this is a swampy, swampy place.”

Nehls said the USCP officers took an illegal photograph of the whiteboard that he and his staff use to track legislation in his Longworth building office and questioned one of his staff members.

Manger has denied that his officers did anything improper when they found the door to Nehls’s office open and entered it to ensure that no security breaches had occurred. Manger also called for an investigation by the Inspector General of the House of Representatives.

But Armstrong has little confidence that a House IG investigation will be enough to get to the bottom of what appears to be a controversial effort initiated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Epoch Times Photo
A temporary, mobile surveillance tower is surrounded by a wood fence as it stands on the east side of the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 19, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“Listen, the IG is under the Capitol Police. What needs to happen is they need to put the brakes on this until we can have a public hearing for members of Congress and the public to weigh in. That is what needs to happen,” he told The Epoch Times.

“They are trying to do what I call executive branch security for 435 members of the legislative branch, so here’s my question: What is the remedy? If they ping one of my employees, can they fire them? My employees don’t work for them; they work for me, they work for the people of North Dakota. So, if there is no reasonable remedy, then it’s surveillance gathering. For what? … for the sake of surveillance gathering.

“What they need to do is stop all of this, schedule some hearings, come in and explain the genesis of this. Come in and explain why they tried to do it in secret, and come in and explain why their narrative has changed so much in the past month.”

As The Epoch Times previously reported, Walker’s initiatives have prompted anger among members of Congress, as well as worries about the potential for significant civil liberties abuses.

Walker, who was appointed by Pelosi, told a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that he seeks “a Capitol Access Verification Entry System (CAVES) program” to “ensure Members of Congress and the USCP [United States Capitol Police] know exactly who is entering the Capitol Complex, and for how long.”

“CAVES would be a security model based on a strict identity verification process. Having a secure ID with the proper electronic devices and software to validate highly secure government identification is an essential starting point for the CAVES system,” Walker said.

Walker also told the subcommittee that he wants an “insider threat awareness program” to train at least one individual on every congressional staff to look for and identify signs among colleagues of “employees who lose their compass” and whose “allegiance has changed.”