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Members of Congress and pre-Jan. 6 Capitol Tours, Explained

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Two things can be true at the same time. First, suggestions by some Democrats shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that Republican members of Congress staged visits to Capitol rioters — and even that they constituted “reconnaissance” visits — remain. unsubstantiated 16 months later. And two, it turns out that the Republicans haven’t been very forthcoming on the subject.

The Jan. 6 committee on Thursday requested information from Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) about a tour he gave to the Capitol complex on Jan. 5, 2021 — a tour Loudermilk later confirmed in a statement in response to the committee. This appears to be the first time the committee has cited evidence of such a tour.

And for the committee and other observers, this evidence calls into question Republicans’ past denials. It is worth taking a moment to analyze.

In a May 2021 ethics complaint against Rep. Mikie Sherrill (DN.J.), a House member who first raised the allegation about “recognition” visits, Loudermilk said, “No Republican member of Congress conducted “reconnaissance” tours through the Capitol, evidenced by security footage captured by US Capitol Police.

In February, the House Administration Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Rodney Davis (Illinois), echoed that in his response to a letter from 34 House Democrats, led by Sherrill, seeking answers on possible tours.

An anonymous House GOP aide followed that up by offering a broader denial to the Hill.

“There were no tours, no big bands, no one with MAGA hats,” the assistant said. “There’s nothing in there that remotely matches the description of Mikie Sherrill’s letter.”

We now know that there was a to visit.

The Jan. 6 committee cited the GOP aide’s anonymous quote in its letter to Loudermilk, saying its “evidence directly contradicts this denial.”

Loudermilk and Davis then responded in a way that seemed to confirm that a tour had taken place: “A constituent family with young children meeting their congressman in the House office buildings is not a suspicious group or a “reconnaissance tour,” Loudermilk and Davis said in a joint statement Thursday. They said the family never entered the Capitol that day or January 6.

So, does the evidence contradict their denials? Denials from Loudermilk and the GOP side of the House Administration Committee specifically addressed the concept of reconnaissance tours, of which there is still no public evidence. As for the anonymous denial on the Hill, it again seems possible that the intention was to deny more specific types of tours – those that were actually harmful.

But it’s important to note that the letter Davis and the anonymous aide were responding to — from Sherrill and 33 fellow Democrats — also didn’t specifically mention the “reconnaissance” tours. Nor did he necessarily claim that any given member or aide was involved in the plot.

His letter cited “suspicious behavior and access granted to visitors to the Capitol complex” and “an extremely high number of outside groups in the complex”, despite restrictions on public visits. He said “the fact remains that there were unusually large groups of people throughout the Capitol who could only have gained access to the Capitol complex by a member of Congress or a member of their staff.”

The implication was clearly that the members or their teams would at least help future insurgents gain access to the Capitol complex – but this implication was not explicitly stated in terms of “reconnaissance” tours.

The letter then asked several entities for any relevant information, “including the names of any members or staff who were part of these tours.”

In this context, even the denial that there were “tours… remotely corresponding to the description of Mikie Sherrill’s letter” is too broad; we indeed learned the name of a “member” who was “part” of a tour.

But we’re also still awaiting any real justification for the type of activity that Sherrill and others have pointed out. While the letter stopped short of the “recognition” tours, she herself did not in her earlier comments.

On January 12, 2021, Sherrill said during a Facebook Live event that she had seen “members of Congress who had groups going through the Capitol that I saw on January 5 for recognition for the next day.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (DN.Y.) offered a backup. When asked if there had indeed been a “tour for the insurgents”, he replied: “I can confirm that.” He said he hadn’t witnessed it firsthand, but had heard about it from a colleague, and he referred suggestively to “some of our new colleagues” in Congress.

But none named which members might have given such visits.

Other Democrats were more cautious. A number of them simply said they saw colleagues giving certain types of tours – that is, not necessarily to the people who eventually stormed the Capitol. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) pointed the finger at Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) but qualified his statement by saying he didn’t know if the touring band was involved in the insurrection. (Boebert later said she showed her family, but no one else.)

It seems entirely possible that a GOP lawmaker gave someone a tour that eventually stormed the Capitol; there were a lot of people in Washington, and we now know that at least one GOP lawmaker made himself available to pay a visit.

Whether such a tour was part of a planning exercise — or whether the hon. member even knew about it — is another question. The onus is on the members to make these broader accusations to substantiate them; otherwise, it sounds like too much overheated rhetoric.

But Republicans have been at pains to acknowledge even the possibility of more innocuous tours. Now we learn there was one, at least.

The question from there is how committed the Jan. 6 committee is to exploring this issue — or if it just means some tour has taken place, backing up what some Democrats (but not all) were saying. So far, what we know remains in the mushy middle.


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