By Melanie Zanona, Whitney Wild and Annie Grayer, CNN
Updated: Thu, 23 Jun 2022 18:26:37 GMT
When Rep. Adam Kinzinger recently received a letter at his home threatening to execute him, his wife and his baby, the Illinois Republican immediately flagged it for the United States Capitol Police.
But Kinzinger -- whose high-profile role on the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection has made him a reviled figure on the right and who is no stranger to such violent threats -- wasn't satisfied with the response he received and felt like the Capitol's law enforcement agency didn't adequately understand the threat environment, according to two Republicans familiar with his thinking. So he was advised by some of his GOP colleagues, who also voted to impeach Donald Trump, to elevate the issue to the FBI as an added precaution, sources said.
US Capitol Police declined to comment for this story.
It's just the latest sign of how seriously the threat of political violence is being taken by lawmakers in the Capitol as the select committee publicly reveals the findings of its nearly yearlong investigation into the January 6 riot. Committee members say they are taking extra security steps -- including requesting security details, which several lawmakers have already been assigned -- amid the heightened concerns over their safety as the public hearings play out.
Kinzinger acknowledged that there's been some frustration with the Capitol Police as members of the committee grapple with an uptick in threats.
"With the level of threats, it's certainly been a frustration to try to get the Capitol Police to understand the threat environment," Kinzinger told CNN on Thursday.
He also said to reporters on Wednesday that he has stepped up his personal security efforts, though he declined to get into further details, saying "we're taking efforts to protect ourselves." In recent days, he's been spotted with a security detail in tow.
The United States Capitol Police does not automatically provide security to members, even if they ask for it, a source familiar with the process tells CNN. Members can request an open source review of publicly available information for USCP to examine, but USCP makes its own calculations about which members get security based on active violent threats.
"It's always a concern for people ... For some members, it's a relatively new experience. For other members, it's an old experience. So we have a spectrum on the committee, but we are all committed to making sure that everybody involved in this process is secure," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the select committee. "And we're extremely concerned to make sure that the brave witnesses who come forward are able to do so in safety. "
A new analysis shared with CNN by Advance Democracy, a nonprofit that conducts public interest investigations, found that calls for violence against members of the January 6 committee have been circulating on some of the same online platforms that helped fuel the lies that led to the insurrection. Users on these platforms are openly calling for the execution of committee members, with GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman of the select committee, appearing to be a specific target.
Kinzinger said on CNN that he listened to a voicemail Wednesday morning with another death threat. He also said that while all the select committee members are dealing with security concerns, he and Cheney in particular have become big targets.
But Kinzinger said his bigger concern is what it means for the "body politic" that people feel comfortable threatening violence — which, coincidentally, has been one of the central themes of their investigation.
The select committee has sought to draw a direct link between Trump's actions and the violence on January 6 when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, putting then-Vice President Mike Pence in danger. The hearings have also featured testimony from state officials and election workers who received threats and harassment because of Trump's election lies.
"It's not just us, but everyone around the country -- there's an increased threat," Kinzinger said. "That's what my concern is, that some day somebody's gonna take it to the next level."
During Trump's second impeachment trial, the House's impeachment managers were assigned a security detail. A similar arrangement could be made for all nine members of the select committee, but it hasn't been decided, according to a separate source familiar with the matter.
If members want security that USCP will not provide, they can pay for security personnel through their member allowance. The budget for security expenses, such as personal security, recently increased by 21% as part of the 2022 appropriations bill.
Assigning more police officers to protect lawmakers while they're in Washington, DC, could put an added strain on an already understaffed law enforcement agency. CNN has previously reported June represents a particularly challenging month for DC-area law enforcement tasked with managing large events, seismic Supreme Court opinions and security surrounding the January 6 hearings.
Capitol Police have leaned on local law enforcement partners such as Baltimore Police, and agencies serving Alexandria, Virginia. A source told CNN that Capitol Police had asked neighboring Montgomery County Police to possibly assist, but they were unable to do so. The agency is tightly focused on protection of Supreme Court justices in its jurisdiction, the source said.
Manpower remains the biggest issue for Capitol Police, who continue to say they are hundreds of officers short of where they need to be.
Aside from receiving security details, there are other examples of how members have had to adjust to the heightened threat environment. Cheney, perhaps the highest-profile member of the panel, has had to take security concerns into consideration when trying to plan for large campaign events, sources said. She has had a security detail since last year, when she voted to impeach Trump and continued to call out his election lies.
Cheney's fellow 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump have also found themselves on the receiving end of threats, though they have ebbed and flowed since the height of impeachment last year. Retiring Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan said he had to upgrade the security in his district office and has had undercover police officers with him when he attends some local events.
"You're just careful," Upton said. "When they call your office or your house, as they have done to me, it's scary. And it's real."
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the select committee who started receiving a security detail right before the hearings kicked off, said that it's become the new normal. There has been a 144% increase in member-related threats and suspicious behavior toward lawmakers over the past five years, with nearly 10,000 cases last year alone, according to statistics from the Capitol Police.
"You know, ever since January 6, it's been a different environment here on the Capitol. And we get periodic briefings by Capitol Police and others about being careful," Thompson said. "And it's so unfortunate that that's kind of the environment, but after January 6, it's not the same."
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.