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Riot on Capitol Hill: Federal investigators examine communications between lawmakers and rioters


The data collected so far includes indications of contact with lawmakers in the days around Jan.6, as well as communications between suspected rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress, the official said.

The existence of such communications does not necessarily indicate wrongdoing by lawmakers and investigators are not yet targeting members of Congress in the investigation, the official noted. If investigators find a probable cause that lawmakers or their staff may have assisted the insurgents, they could seek warrants to obtain the contents of the communications. There is no indication that they have taken such a step at this stage.

With around 300 people facing charges, the investigation has gone from surveying what law enforcement officials see as easy arrests of people accused of participating in the riot to those who allegedly conspired and planned the aggression to disrupt the constitutional process of certification by Congress. election results.

Justice Department officials have tasked more than two dozen prosecutors, including some from outside Washington, to look into more complex issues, including the possible funding of insurgents and whether political figures, including political figures, lawmakers and staff aided the attack, the US official said.

Law enforcement officials say one of the first steps taken after the insurgency was to search the cell phone tower data to try and identify people on Capitol Hill that day, a tactic authorized by applicable law. It was necessary, officials say, because among multiple failures that day, the United States Capitol Police allowed the hundreds of people who attacked the building to leave without being arrested.

Authorities only announced a handful of arrests on January 6, and the FBI and other agencies then used a net across the country to find the rioters.

Law enforcement officers have used what they call an “exclusion list”. The list allows investigators to see mobile devices authorized to be on Capitol Hill – such as members and staff of Congress, law enforcement, and other government and public safety officials – while eliminating people who were not authorized to be in the building, according to a federal court filed in a riot-related case.

The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The FBI’s collection of phone metadata and geolocation data – permitted under federal law – has been the subject of multiple rounds of questioning this week by some senators who have urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to reveal what investigators were doing with communications and financial data. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri suggested in a hearing Tuesday that the FBI could override its authority by collecting communications data.

Investigators also have security footage of the Capitol Police that Democrats want to examine to see if any members visited riot participants before January 6. Democrats accused anonymous Republicans of providing access to gatherers, suggesting they were pre-riot surveillance opportunities.

Other lawmakers have a separate concern, as investigators get closer to the activities of lawmakers, some members of Congress could use the protections of speech or the Constitution’s debate clause to try to block the work of the FBI. The clause grants statutory immunity to members of Congress in the exercise of their legislative functions.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, says he has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate because he believes Congress will be able to get information the FBI may have trouble with to be obtained because of the protections of speech or debate.

Whitehouse, in a telephone interview with CNN, said his efforts are “to ensure that this is not an investigation limited to those who assaulted and entered the Capitol on January 6,” adding that “the potential guilt of members of Congress” must be investigated.

The new phase of the federal investigation follows in the footsteps of federal officials exposed after the attack. Acting U.S. District Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said that after the initial stage of rallying the rioters, prosecutors and investigators would begin to look at more difficult aspects: including funding and organizing the riot. riot, likely talks by lawmakers and even though the incitement to the rally organized by President Donald Trump before the riot did not break any law. Prosecutors have also pushed for sedition charges against some suspected rioters, a step awaiting Justice Department approval, people briefed on the matter said.

Sherwin has announced that he will be moving to the Justice Department to help run cases for a period of time, as the department draws up a longer-term plan for a sprawling investigation that will span months.

Justice officials are aware of the political and constitutional implications of parts of the investigation, especially those involving members of Congress, according to law enforcement officials.

So far, investigators have found no evidence that members of Congress knowingly aided or were involved in the insurgency, the US official said. The FBI has seized devices belonging to suspected rioters and found communications that show links that investigators plan to investigate further.

In some cases, there is data showing past contact with lawmakers, and in others, communications between suspected rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress. Some suspected rioters also claimed to have ensured the safety of lawmakers

In a case against an alleged leader of the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, a defendant claimed she was drafted to provide security for lawmakers and others on their march to Capitol Hill.

None of this necessarily points to wrongdoing on the part of lawmakers, the U.S. official said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Wray said he could not provide details of specific actions taken by the FBI while the investigation was ongoing.

Asked by Hawley about the FBI’s use of metadata and other information from cell towers, Wray said, “I have no doubts that we are using various legal authorities to review metadata.”

Hawley, who helped lead the effort to block Congressional certification of election results during the riot, expressed frustration, “How are we going to know what you do with it and how are we going to assess the conduct. from the office if we don’t. Do you know which authorities you invoke, what exactly do you do, what you remember? “Said Hawley.” You basically say ‘trust us.’ ”

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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