Updated 6:33 p.m. | Two weeks after Douglas Hughes got a hero's welcome and displayed a jumbo, celebratory stamp outside Washington's federal courthouse, the U.S. Postal Service informed the Florida mailman it plans to can him. But Hughes is "not going to take it lying down," he said Wednesday.
Hughes, 61, told CQ Roll Call the USPS notified him in an overnight letter it intends to fire him from the job he's held for 12 years for "unacceptable conduct." On April 15, Hughes landed on the West Front of the Capitol in a gyrocopter labeled with the USPS logo, wearing a letter carrier's uniform. Capitol Police seized the aircraft and a USPS bin holding letters to Congress addressing what Hughes says is the corrupting influence of money in politics and the need to change campaign finance laws. The Postal Service confirmed after Hughes' flight that he had been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. "The Postal Service is committed to upholding its reputation as a trusted federal agency and expects all of its employees to share this commitment," the USPS said in a statement Wednesday. "Mr. Hughes was not authorized to represent the interests of the Postal Service at the time he chose to engage in his activities of April 15, 2015. Furthermore, the Postal Service does not condone, authorize or support his actions. The Postal Service cannot comment concerning any action taken in this matter as the Postal Service does not comment on pending employee disciplinary matters. Mr. Hughes will be afforded all of the rights that he is entitled to under the law, collective bargaining agreement, and Postal Service policy before any final action is taken."
Hughes said he is talking to the union and is encouraged by the public support he's received.
“What I did actually struck a chord with a lot of people," he said. More than 2,000 people — including Hughes — have joined the "Free Doug Hughes" Facebook group. Groups in Washington are also mobilizing on his behalf, though Hughes seems to think his message best resonates beyond the Beltway.
Hughes was initially charged with one felony and one misdemeanor, but U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Vincent H. Cohen Jr., Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine and U.S. Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams announced a six-count indictment on May 20. When they "bumped up" his charges to two felonies and four misdemeanors, Hughes knew he "struck a nerve somewhere."
In Congress, lawmakers continue to look for ways to close the security gap they say was exposed by Hughes' flight into restricted airspace. Capitol security officials and members have focused on the potential for an aerial attack and why federal law enforcement didn't see Hughes coming. "But I haven't been charged with embarrassing Congress," Hughes said. He alleges a "coordinated effort at the top to really nail me," despite the lack of property damage, injury or intent to do either with his protest.
The letters Hughes carried may still reach Congress, with the help of a 70-year-old man named Joe Lane. Beginning on June 10, the Connecticut-based thriller writer will walk the halls of Capitol office buildings hand-delivering Hughes’ letters to members of Congress.
“At the core of my novel 'Aftershock' is the urgent need to reform our campaign finance laws. Without such reform, we have no democracy," Lane said in a statement. "Yet, the thrust of Doug’s actions became, in the eyes of the media at least, how this well-meaning postal employee embarrassed Homeland Security by literally flying under the radar and breaching Capital-area security."
By delivering Hughes' letters, Lane hopes "to put the public emphasis back where it should be.” He'll start at the Cannon office of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and keep going until 5 p.m. that day. Lane, who did not respond to a call or email for comment Wednesday, plans to keep going until he completes his mission "or I’m dead, whichever happens first."
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