WASHINGTON—More senators and representatives are receiving threats against them and/or their families and staff members than at this point in 2018, and last year had the most cases ever, according to Capitol Hill Chief of Police Steven A. Sund.
“We continue to see the threat assessment cases that we’re opening continue to grow,” Sund told the House Administration Committee on July 16.
“For fiscal year 2018, we had approximately 4,894 cases. So far, for this year, we have 2,502 cases. So we’re on par to probably break last year’s record.”
His testimony on July 16 marked his first appearance before the committee since taking over the congressional police force in June, following the retirement of his predecessor, Matthew Verderosa.
Sund was previously director of special operations for the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department.
It wasn’t clear from Sund’s testimony, however, that the actual threat level has increased since the June 2017 incident in which an angry supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers who were practicing at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field for the annual congressional ballgame.
Then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was seriously wounded by the gunman, as were two staffers, before members of the Capitol Police security detail and Alexandria police engaged him in a fierce firefight. The gunman died later at a local hospital. One member of the security detail was wounded during the engagement.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who noted during the hearing on July 16 that he was on the baseball field during the firefight, asked Sund, “What percentage of those would you consider as credible threats?”
Sund said, “When you talk about ‘as credible threats,’ we evaluate them in the legal framework of what is considered to be an actual threat to do bodily harm. A much lower percentage of that number actually meet that threshold.
“They are all still very concerning; they all still require us to expend resources and evaluate, but it’s a much lower percentage than the total number of assessment cases we receive.”
House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving told Loudermilk that following the baseball field attack, congressional security officials implemented “a paradigm shift from a traditional threat assessment that would yield very little if any Capitol Police support to a member who is now receiving higher-than-average threats or direction-of-interest communications.”
“We now provide enhanced support to their office. In terms of security services, we will liaise very heavily with local law enforcement in their districts to ensure that they’re covered for public events,” Irving said.
“We ask that they provide us their schedule, for example, and let us know when they are going to be making public appearances or traveling about, and we’ll coordinate with local law enforcement, and at times Capitol Police, depending upon their activity. So that enhanced level of support is something that was not previously done to the basis that we’re doing today,” he said.
On the same day that Sund and Irving were testifying before Congress about their efforts to ensure safety of members of Congress and their staff, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) made public a recording of a threat he recently received.
In the graphic message, the individual, who was identified by the FBI, according to Gaetz, told him, “Do you know that I can blow your [expletive] head clean off your shoulders from over a mile away?” The caller described Gaetz as “a pathetic piece of [expletive],” warned him to “watch your back,” then laughed and said, “I’m coming after you.”
Gaetz told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that he “received word late last week that the U.S. Attorney’s office where this individual lives had reviewed these messages and deemed them ‘a non-threat.’”
Verbal threats of violence against any federal official for any reason is a felony. Even so, Gaetz said he expects members of Congress collectively to receive as many as 10,000 threats this year.
“I condemn them, whether they’re against Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives,” Gaetz said. “This is just no way to operate within our country.”
Gaetz also questioned whether federal prosecutors use different standards for members who, like him, have been highly critical of “some of the senior officials” in the Department of Justice and the FBI “that maybe leads to different treatment of the people who threaten me, as opposed to the people who actually get arrested who have threatened [Rep.] Eric Swalwell [D-Calif.] … whereas when people threaten conservatives, I hope there is not a double standard.”
Gaetz also said he has received multiple messages threatening violence against members of his family.
Also on July 16, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked Capitol Police for more security due to President Donald Trump’s tweets.