Federal law enforcement agents are reportedly assessing several menacing statements, including death threats, directed toward congressional lawmakers ahead of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
That's according to what a U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss an ongoing investigation and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
"Though much of the security apparatus around Washington set up after the riot and ahead of Biden's inauguration—it included scores of military checkpoints and hundreds of additional law enforcement personnel—is no longer in place, about 7,000 members of the National Guard will remain to assist federal law enforcement," AP reported on Monday. "The number of troops in D.C. would then continue to decline in the coming weeks."
About 5,000 troops are expected to stay in Washington until mid-March. One reason for their prolonged presence is "ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol," AP noted.
Those threats, as well as "concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew... prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist" that thousands of troops remain in the nation's capital "as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial," which is scheduled to begin on February 9.
According to AP:
The shocking insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob prompted federal officials to rethink security in and around its landmarks, resulting in an unprecedented lockdown for Biden's inauguration. Though the event went off without any problems and armed protests around the country did not materialize, the threats to lawmakers ahead of Trump's trial exemplified the continued potential for danger.
Similar to those intercepted by investigators ahead of Biden's inauguration, the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility, said the official, who had been briefed on the matter. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial, according to the official...
Law enforcement officials are already starting to plan for the possibility of armed protesters returning to the nation's capital when Trump's Senate trial on a charge of inciting a violent insurrection begins the week of Feb. 8
Inspired by Trump's lies about voter fraud—which were explicitly and tacitly backed by hundreds of Republican lawmakers and right-wing media outlets—thousands of the 45th president's supporters violently invaded the halls of Congress during the certification of President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.
Although there was, as AP noted, "intelligence suggesting the rally would descend into a riot," Capitol police said they prepared for a "free speech demonstration," not an insurrection. Five people, including a Capitol police officer hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, were killed during the chaotic siege in which law enforcement was overwhelmed.
The news outlet reported:
More than 130 people have been charged by federal prosecutors for their roles in the riot. In recent weeks, others have been arrested after posting threats against members of Congress.
They include a Proud Boys supporter who authorities said threatened to deploy "three cars full of armed patriots" to Washington, threatened harm against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and who is accused of stockpiling military-style combat knives and more than 1,000 rifle rounds in his New York home. A Texas man was arrested this week for taking part in the riot at the Capitol and for posting violent threats, including a call to assassinate Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
This dangerous context has led some to suggest that the Senate's upcoming vote on whether to convict Trump should be conducted via a secret ballot. Former labor secretary Robert Reich explained that doing so will "protect [the] safety of senators, and allow them to vote their consciences."
"If Republican senators had integrity and if Trump supporters were peaceful, this wouldn't be necessary," Reich added. "But they're not and they're not. So a secret ballot offers a better chance of convicting Trump and ensuring he'll never again be president."