Congress Wants Answers From Capitol Police on Gyrocopter (Video)
Members of Congress say they received no warning that the West Front went into lockdown Wednesday afternoon, prompting concerns about how Capitol Police would handle a more menacing threat to the secure airspace surrounding the Dome.
Among those demanding accountability from Capitol Police over the gyrocopter incident are appropriators who write the Capitol Police budget.
“We should have been alerted. We absolutely should have been alerted so we can not only take precautions ourselves, but for our constituents,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who holds the gavel on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.
The West Virginia Republican’s staff has reached out to Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine to request the department put together a briefing for Capito and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, the panel’s ranking member. Capito told CQ Roll Call she wants “to find out what was done, if anything, or what was known,” about Doug Hughes’ arrival on the Capitol lawn.
“It is scary to think that something like that could come in so close, especially when he was warning us he was coming,” Capito said.
Several members, including those with jurisdiction over the department, said their intel on the situation came from the media, not the police. Capitol Police sent out a press alert at 1:42 p.m., approximately 12 minutes after Hughes landed, stating police were investigating a gyrocopter with a single occupant, with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area.
“In all honesty, you guys were the guys driving the information on it,” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said, when asked if he had concern about communications during the event. “Maybe the chief was waiting for you guys to tune up the thing, I don’t know,” he joked. Amodei said he felt like he knew what was happening on the West Front from following media reports.
Recently appointed vice chairman of the House Appropriations panel that oversees Capitol Police funding, Amodei indicated he and his colleagues would be looking for lessons learned from the incident. “There’s some areas for concern, but nobody got hurt,” he added.
“Frankly, the individual is fortunate that this stunt did not cost him his life,” they said in a joint statement. “Bottom line, this small aircraft should have never been able to access protected airspace and land on the U.S. Capitol Grounds — and this cannot happen again. Our Committee will work with the U.S. Capitol Police and both the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms to ensure that this incident is fully reviewed and security measures are updated to make certain the protection of Members of Congress, staff, visitors and the entire Capitol Complex remains at the highest level.”
The top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also said he is “very concerned” by a perceived lack of information from the Capitol Police.
“I didn’t even know that there was an incident until after it happened — in fact, I read it online,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., told reporters.
Cummings spoke to Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy about the gyrocopter, probing for answers on how much information agents had about Hughes before he piloted the small aircraft over the National Mall and to the Capitol lawn. While the Secret Service learned about Hughes in 2013, interviewed him and determined the Florida postal worker was not a threat, Cummings said he is unclear if the agency communicated the intelligence to Capitol Police.
“I am concerned because I think, you know, we should have been alerted,” Cummings said. “I’m telling you whenever anything happens around here, I get about 20 alerts, but I didn’t see anything on this, which is amazing.”
Whether the Oversight committee will hold a hearing on the incident remains unclear. A spokeswoman for Chairman Jason Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call staff is in the process of putting together a letter to the Secret Service to try and understand the circumstances surrounding the incident.
At least one public official was warning against overreaction.
“The gyrocopter incident yesterday was not a serious threat to the security of the nation’s capital,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., in a statement that warned against an overreaction by security officials and urged collaboration with the FAA before rushing to judgement. “If it had been, I am confident that Doug Hughes would likely not have lived to tell the tale. Surely the first remedy is deterrence and prevention, such as making sure that Hughes is held accountable to the full extent of the law.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is looking into the incident.
“I am deeply concerned that someone has the ability to fly for over an hour through the most restricted airspace in our country, past the White House, and land on the lawn of the Capitol,” Johnson said in a Thursday statement on Hughes arrest. “I am investigating this incident and I am requesting a full accounting by all federal organizations entrusted with securing the United States from this and similar events. While Mr. Hughes’ guilt or innocence must still be determined by the courts, the apparent details serve as a reminder that the risk to America and Americans is ever present.”
Capitol Police said in a Wednesday statement that they are continuing to investigate the incident along with several partner agencies, including the Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Park Police and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is handling charges against Hughes. Capitol Police are also working with authorities in Pennsylvania, where he started his flight.
The Capitol Police Board, which has jurisdiction over the department and is currently reviewing a resignation letter from Dine, has not publicly commented. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, the current chairman, did not respond to a press inquiry.
Emma Dumain contributed to this report.