Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
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The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump’s trial, the official said Sunday.
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 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, officials said.
The Guard Bureau said that the number of troops in D.C. would then continue to decline in the coming weeks to about 5,000. They are expected to stay in D.C. until mid-March.
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.
It would be the first impeachment trial of a former U.S. president.
Thousands of Trump’s supporters descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress met to certify Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential race. More than 800 are believed to have made their way into the Capitol during the violent siege, pushing past overwhelmed police officers. The Capitol police said they planned for a free speech protest, not a riot, and were caught off guard despite intelligence suggesting the rally would descend into a riot. Five people died in the melee, including a Capitol police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.
The chief of the National Guard in Washington says in recent days, more than 200 National Guard troops tested positive for COVID-19 and have had to follow CDC and Defense Department guidelines on being in quarantine.