Appropriators pressure Capitol Police to make Jan. 6 IG report public, hold press briefings

Department has long history of resisting transparency

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., arrives at the Capitol during a vote on Feb. 26, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., arrives at the Capitol during a vote on Feb. 26, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 29, 2021 at 5:25pm

Two lawmakers in charge of determining Capitol Police funding levels are pressuring the notoriously secretive department to publicly release an upcoming inspector general report on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“In the wake of the January 6th attack that shook the confidence of so many Americans, taking a more open and transparent approach isn’t just the right thing to do, it will be the most effective as we seek to restore citizens’ confidence that the heart of America’s government is secure,” House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., wrote Monday to the U.S. Capitol Police board.

The IG’s review of the insurrection aims to determine failures in planning, policy and intelligence gathering and is expected to make recommendations on how to fix problems within the department tasked with keeping the Capitol safe.

Michael A. Bolton, the force’s inspector general, launched the review within a week of the attack. The IG’s office suspended all other projects pending the completion of the review and committed its entire staff to it.

The Capitol Police inspector general, unlike similar watchdogs within the executive branch, is not required to post reports or audits on its website or make them public. The department has resisted doing so and has repeatedly rejected requests by CQ Roll Call for access to previous reports.

The department is not subject to the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, which requires federal agencies to disclose a large amount of government information to the public.

Congress is not subject to the law, and the USCP, as a component of the legislative branch, is also exempt from any FOIA request.

Ryan and Herrera Beutler included a roundup of grievances with the lack of transparency and accessibility the department has displayed since the attack on the Capitol.

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They urged the department and the USCP board to interact with the press, a long-held aversion. Neither the leadership of Capitol Police nor the USCP Board have conducted any press conferences or briefings since the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“We write today to express frustration with your unwillingness to release information to the public or answer media questions regarding the events of January 6th, the current security posture of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) and plans to secure the Capitol Complex in the mid and long-term future,” they wrote.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has publicly declined to conduct a press briefing.

“No, ma’am. Not at this time,” Pittman said in response to a question about such a briefing from Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton at a Feb. 25 hearing of the Legislative Branch subcommittee.

The subcommittee’s leaders have now made that request in writing.

“We ask that you hold regular press conferences updating the public on any threats to Congress. We also request that you share progress being made to strengthen USCP to protect the Capitol Complex, Members, staff, and the visiting public,” wrote Ryan and Herrera Beutler. “We fully anticipate that sensitive details would remain confidential but expect USCP to share as much information as possible.”

At least 35 Capitol Police officers are being investigated by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility for actions related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Six of those officers were suspended with pay, as of February. The Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates officer misconduct, has in some instances shown a reluctance to hold its officers to account for egregious actions.

The Capitol Police Board is now composed of House Sergeant-at-Arms William J. Walker, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson and Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton. Pittman is a non-voting member, as is customary for the chief of the department.

The Capitol Police board has seen nearly complete turnover since the Jan. 6 attacks, after which both sergeants-at-arms and the previous Capitol Police chief resigned.
Lawmakers have repeatedly called for an overhaul of the Capitol Police Board since the violent attack on the Capitol.

“It’s like your appendix,” full Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said on Feb 25 of the board. “It’s just there. It doesn’t have any real function.”

Chris Marquette and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.