Gyrocopter Pilot Back in Court; Questions Not Over for Capitol Police (Updated)
Updated 10:58 a.m. | Doug Hughes returns to the District of Columbia later this month for a preliminary hearing on charges related to his April 15 landing on the West Front of the Capitol, an event that provoked tough questions from members of Congress about how safe Washington is from aerial attacks.
Lawmakers from both chambers requested Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine provide private briefings and public testimony about how much the department knew, and when. During an April 29 hearing , Dine was asked more than seven times whether officers had guns trained on Hughes’ gyrocopter. The answers didn’t seem to satisfy House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who said he wants to talk to those further down the command chain who were actually involved. “There’s been a number of accusations made that there [were] guns pointed at this particular individual,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in an interview about his takeaways from the hearing. “I would suspect that those first assertions were not accurate, that guns may have been drawn but only after, you know, the gentleman was being apprehended. It was not a pre-emptive aiming.”
Meadows, who chairs the panel’s Government Operations Subcommittee, was concerned to learn the witnesses, leaders from the Secret Service, Park Police and Federal Aviation Administration, met to discuss their testimony before talking to the committee. He suggested they put together “a coordinated effort to be a stone wall.” Asked specifically about Dine’s testimony, Meadows expressed doubts.
“It is concerning to me that any time that you have someone who is in charge and they’re coming before a hearing, where they should be prepared … that they can’t answer that with specificity. It gives you the reason and the inclination to look further into what other things have been shared that may or may not be accurate,” Meadows said.
After the hearing, Chaffetz reached out to leaders of the Capitol Police union, who have a strained relationship with Dine. According to Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Jim Konczos, at least one meeting occurred between Chaffetz and the union and more may be on the horizon.
MJ Henshaw, a GOP spokeswoman for Oversight, said Chaffetz expressed concern about CQ Roll Call’s May 1 report on Capitol Police leaving their guns around the Capitol. The committee is keeping an eye on the situation, according to Henshaw.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking member, said the report was “a wake-up call” and suggested Capitol Police leadership might be subject to the same scrutiny as the Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Administration, agencies which have both experienced recent turnover at the top. During the April 29 hearing, Cummings’ frustration was evident.
“The airspace around our nation’s capital is supposed to be the most restricted in the world, yet a postal worker — hello, a postal worker from Florida — was able to fly his gyrocopter through 30 miles of restricted airspace before finally landing on the Capitol lawn,” Cummings said. “In this case, the individual was only trying to make a peaceful demonstration. But we might not be so fortunate in the future. … What if he had weapons? What if he were carrying a bomb?”
Hughes, who was released last month on his own recognizance to await trial in Florida, was scheduled to be in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday afternoon. On May 6, the judge granted a motion to delay the hearing to May 21.
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