Members Wonder When Office Break-In Cases Will Be Cracked
It’s been several months since news first surfaced that House Members’ offices were becoming targets of after-hours thefts, but Capitol Hill law enforcement has still not identified a culprit.
Now, with reports that more burglaries are hitting the halls of Congress, lawmakers and staffers are getting antsy.
“It’s one thing to have your office broken into. It’s another thing to have your office broken into after this has been ‘business as usual’ for a long time,” said Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), whose Washington office was raided over the weekend.
Another Member whose office was targeted earlier this year isn’t too pleased, either.
“He’s frustrated that the efforts by Capitol Police have not led to solving the original break-ins,” said Jim Specht, a spokesman for Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)
There have been at least three thefts in the past month in the Rayburn House Office Building, according to statistics released by Capitol Police. Gallegly’s Rayburn office is among them.
The theft in Gallegly’s office seems to fit the pattern established in thefts that occurred in April and May. The “break-ins” are more like “walk-ins,” perpetrated by someone or some people using a key. And with the exception of an expensive computer monitor and high-tech cameras lifted from the office of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), most of the stolen items appear to be personal mementos and Congressional memorabilia that could be sold online.
Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) lost a scarf; Lewis, according to Gallegly, lost his collection of Easter eggs signed by a long line of first ladies.
Gallegly told Roll Call that every desk drawer in his Washington office had been ransacked, with money stolen if there was any to take, along with anything bearing a Congressional logo or seal. He also lost the collection of state license plates he had been accumulating for 26 years, which he hoped to one day to give his children or grandchildren.
But as heartbroken as Gallegly might be to lose the fruits of a quarter-century hobby, he said he was more concerned about the security ramifications of continuing to allow the perpetrator or perpetrators to be at-large.
“For eight years I served on the Intelligence Committee, and sometimes there might be something in my desk drawer that wasn’t for everyone’s eyes,” Gallegly said. “And if someone has the ability to go into my office and take something out, in this world today, they have the ability to put something in,” such as a destructive weapon or hazardous materials.
The sentiment was shared in May by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) at a Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch markup, held the day after media outlets reported news of the thefts.
“We need to get this resolved right way because it’s more involved than missing money or whatever,” Rogers said at the time, regarding possible confidential material in Member offices.
Rogers, a former prosecutor, also asserted that it shouldn’t take long for Capitol Hill law enforcement to find the responsible parties.
“There’s been no evidence of a physical break-in, which suggests that [someone] had access to those offices,” Rogers said. “That should narrow the investigation quite considerably.”
Gallegly said he was told Monday that officials suspect the perpetrators are contractors on the maintenance or facilities teams who work in the Capitol after hours and who have keys to all the Members’ offices. Many of them, Gallegly continued, are not given background checks under the e-verify program, the workplace verification system that seeks to verify whether a job applicant is in the country legally.
“Is it possible people are working in the U.S. Capitol who have a key to my office, who have no legal rights to be here in the United States? Well, that’s possible,” Gallegly said. “That’s very unsettling.”
Law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill insist they are still on the case.
On Tuesday, the office of the House Sergeant-at-Arms released a statement to Roll Call saying that its staff and that of the Capitol Police “continue to investigate the thefts occurring in the House Office Buildings.”
“This remains one of our highest priorities at this time,” the statement continued.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider also said the Capitol Police had an “active, open investigation regarding the recent theft reports.”
Gallegly has no doubts that both law enforcement bodies are concerned and want to crack the case. Neither does Specht.
“[Rep. Lewis] believes that the Capitol Police have done what they can at this point to get to the bottom of this,” Specht told Roll Call. “He is encouraging them to continue, though, since clearly if they don’t know what happened the last time, it would be difficult to prevent it from happening again.”
Runyan spokesman Andrew Fasoli also agrees: “We definitely feel that the Capitol Police has taken this very seriously; we haven’t had a break-in since. . We all feel pretty safe.”