WASHINGTON – Members of Congress receive thousands of threats a year, though only a small fraction of the people who call, mail or email will ever be prosecuted — a situation that is of great concern to police who surveil members.
Only 22 of the 7,501 threats made against members during 2022 have resulted in prosecutions, US Capitol Police confirmed to the US newsroom on Tuesday. That’s a statistic the police chief says needs to change.
“Recognizing that threat cases are difficult to prosecute, it is disheartening to me that our prosecution rate remains low,” USCP Chief Thomas Manger said during a recent congressional hearing while discussing the 2021 numbers.
In 2022, the USCP filed 313 cases with U.S. attorneys’ offices after determining they posed criminal threats against members of Congress, according to a USCP spokesperson.
Twenty-two of those cases were prosecuted, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many resulted in settlements or convictions.
The goal in many cases is to get mental health care, according to the USCP. Jailing people who threaten members of Congress “isn’t always the best route,” the spokesman said.
The USCP remanded 458 threat cases during 2021, of which 40 resulted in a court case, according to Democratic Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who said the hearing in which Manger testified.
“The FBI and the US Attorney’s Office are very helpful, but they have a huge caseload and for us, a threat against a member of Congress is our top priority. It’s not always their top priority,” Manger said.
“So if we have our people to make sure these things are pursued, I think that’s a big step in the right direction for us.”
Manger said the USCP has made “significant inroads” into prosecutions by getting three US attorneys dedicated to pursuing threat cases against members of Congress.
He argued that prosecutions have a “deterrent effect” and said he was working with the US Department of Justice to allow US lawyers to work across state lines if needed.
“It would be nice if we could send them where we need to send them so we can pursue more of those cases,” Manger said.
The number of threats made against members has fluctuated in recent years, reaching a peak of 9,625 threats in 2021, an average of just over 26 per day.
That number is up from 8,613 threats made in 2020, 6,955 threats made in 2019, a total of 5,206 in 2018 and 3,939 in 2017, according to USCP.
Attack Paolo Pelosi
Threats against members of Congress have become a disturbing reality of everyday life for lawmakers and staff, as well as deciphering which people are likely to follow through on those threats.
The safety of members and their families came to the fore once again in October when a man broke into the home former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares with her husband Paul. The man later allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer as he searched for the longtime Democratic lawmaker.
The man, who was quickly arrested by police inside the San Francisco home, told detectives in an interview that after finding spokeswoman Pelosi, if she told the “truth,” he intended to let her go. but that if she “lied,” he intended to break her “kneecaps.”
The incident came about three months after a man attacked Republican New York Representative Lee Zeldin at a campaign event near Rochester as he was running for governor.
The man later told law enforcement he had been drinking, didn’t know who Zeldin was or that he was a politician, and said he “must have retired” after seeing a video of the incident, according to The Associated Press.
Kansas Republican Representative Jake LaTurner testified in January against a man who was later convicted of threatening one of the congressman’s offices.
Prosecutors played a voicemail during the trial, showing the man threatening to kill LaTurner and all other members of Congress after declaring he was the “son of God” and the “Messiah,” according to The Kansas City Star.
In April 2022, a Florida man pleaded guilty to threatening a federal official for emailing Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar in July 2019 threatening to kill her.
The 67-year-old man sent an email with the subject line “(You are) dead, radical Muslim,” after watching a press conference on television that Omar attended along with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
In the email, the man referred to Omar and the other lawmakers as “radical rats” and said he would shoot them in the head, according to a US Department of Justice press release.
“Threatening to kill our elected officials, especially because of their race, ethnicity or religious beliefs, is offensive to our nation’s core values,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Division said in a written statement at the time. for civil rights of the Department of Justice.
“The Justice Department will not hesitate to prosecute individuals who violate federal laws that prohibit hate-motivated and violent threats. All elected officials, regardless of their background, should be able to represent their communities and serve the public free from hate-motivated threats and violence.”
The man was later sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $7,000, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Manger said during the hearing that the USCP hopes to improve security for legislators’ homes and district offices, as well as members of the leadership.
“Because of the number of incoming threats and the number of credible threats that we have some concern about, I believe we need to greatly expand the number of security agents we have,” he said.
Manger noted that the USCP currently doesn’t “provide the level of protection to some executives that perhaps we should.”
“It’s certainly not on par with what’s being done in the executive branch,” Manger added.
He also told the panel that he had asked the USCP board “to do for the whole of Congress what the House has begun to do for its own members.”
“Every member of Congress would have a security system in their home, in their district offices; so it adds a layer of protection not only for the member, but also for his family and his staff,” Manger said.
Part of that process, he said, would include establishing a security operations center where civilian employees working for the USCP would monitor the security systems as well as the security system company’s employees.
“Having that redundancy and having that instant recognition if there’s a problem and immediate response if there’s a problem, I think, provides exactly what we need in terms of improving security,” Manger said.