CNN reports that federal investigators are looking into communications between members of Congress and pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, citing a U.S. official who has been briefed on the matter.
The development comes as the “investigation moves closer to exploring whether lawmakers wittingly or unwittingly helped the insurrectionists,” the news outlet reported.
The data gathered so far includes indications of contact with lawmakers in the days around January 6, as well as communications between alleged rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress, the official said.
The existence of such communications doesn’t necessarily indicate wrongdoing by lawmakers and investigators aren’t yet targeting members of Congress in the investigation, the official noted. Should investigators find probable cause that lawmakers or their staffs possibly aided the insurrectionists, they could seek warrants to obtain the content of the communications. There’s no indication they’ve taken such a step at this point.
Law enforcement officials say one of the first steps taken after the insurrection was to seek cell phone tower data to try to identify people at the Capitol that day, a tactic allowed under existing law. That was necessary, the officials say, because among the multiple failures that day was the US Capitol Police allowing the hundreds of people who had attacked the building to leave without arrest.
According to the report, law enforcement officers have used what is termed an “exclusion list,” which allows them to see mobile devices that were authorized to be in the Capitol, such as lawmakers and staff, while sifting out people who were not.
CNN noted that some lawmakers have voiced concern “that as investigators move closer to the activities of lawmakers, some members of Congress could use the protections of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause to try to block the work of the FBI. The clause provides legal immunity to members of Congress when carrying out their legislative duties.”
In order to sidestep this issue, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) “says he’s asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate because he believes Congress will be able to get information that the FBI may have trouble getting because of the Speech or Debate protections,” CNN reported.
The new phase of the federal probe is along the lines federal officials outlined after the attack. Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said that after the initial stage of rounding up rioters, prosecutors and investigators would begin examining more difficult aspects: including the funding and organizing of the riot, the likely interviews of lawmakers and even whether incitement at the rally held by President Donald Trump before the riot broke any laws.
So far, investigators haven’t found evidence that members of Congress knowingly aided or were involved in the insurrection, the US official said. The FBI has seized devices belonging to alleged rioters and has found communications that show connections that investigators plan to examine further.
In some cases, there is data showing past contact with lawmakers, and in others there’s communications between alleged rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress. Some alleged rioters have also claimed to have provided security for lawmakers
None of this necessarily indicates wrongdoing by any lawmakers, the US official said.
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