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U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger isn’t happy.
Manger is upset the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia didn’t prosecute “The Colbert 9.” USCP officers busted those who worked for Stephen Colbert for trespassing after hours in the Longworth House Office Building and then allegedly lying to officers that they held congressional credentials.
“It is unfortunate that despite all the evidence the department presented, including that the group or its leader had been told several times that they could not be in the buildings without an escort, that the U.S. attorney’s office declined to prosecute any members of the group for unlawful entry,” Manger wrote.
It was part of a letter to Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the leading Republican on the House Judiciary panel.
Both Davis and Jordan sent their own letter to Manger in June inquiring about the late-night arrests of “The Late Show” crew.
Manger’s missive provides the first detailed step-by-step accounting of the events of June 16, culminating in the arrests of nine people associated with “The Late Show” in a House office building.
Colbert’s crew previously tried to obtain credentials to cover Capitol Hill in conjunction with the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Representatives of the House Radio/TV Gallery told Colbert staff Jake Plunkett the comedy troupe didn’t qualify for press credentials on Capitol Hill.
They were entertainment, not journalists. They could appeal the decision to the Radio/TV Correspondents’ Association if they wished. The RTCA is directly responsible for credentialing congressional reporters. Plunkett told the gallery they wouldn’t pursue it because they weren’t press.
Manger’s letter says gallery staff also warned Colbert’s staffers they couldn’t enter the congressional office buildings without an escort.
The Colbert production team scheduled appointments with lawmakers on June 15. They also performed a skit outside the office of Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., on June 16.
Fox reported weeks ago that members of the Colbert 9 were on Capitol Hill to do interviews with lawmakers on June 16. That access is permitted because they made arrangements with congressional offices.
However, the Jan. 6 committee conducted a hearing later that afternoon in the Cannon Caucus Room, a large hearing room just off the Cannon Rotunda.
In addition to a traditional, congressional “hard pass,” the House Radio/TV Gallery required journalists covering the hearing or circulating in an area near the room to have an additional “overlay” credential. The overlay would grant journalists access to the hearing area.
Still, the Colbert crew milled about near where the committee held the hearing. The group did not get into the zone where they weren’t supposed to go and did not enter the hearing room. However, gallery staff and USCP officers had their eyes on the comedy troupe. They lacked an escort from a congressional office at that point.
Manger’s letter says that officers eventually confronted “The Late Show” team and had them “escorted out of the building for violating building rules.”
However, an aide to Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., let the group back into the House office buildings later that day. Fox is told the staffer was under the impression they had other interviews to do. The aide left, and the group was “improperly allowed to remain in the building.”
Trouble started later that night.
Capitol Police said they received an emergency call from an aide to Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., at 8:26 p.m. Bowman’s aide was working late in the office and “could hear a man shouting outside his office” and banging on the door of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., down the hall. The man was yelling “Do you remember me? Do you remember me? It’s me. We’re going to leave something under your door.”
Bowman’s aide was alarmed and locked the office door. Capitol Police swung into action. The first officer who arrived found seven people in the corridor. Plunkett allegedly lied when confronted by Capitol Police. Manger’s letter says Plunkett told the officer “they were credentialed staff.” Plunkett also said they “were contractors for the CBS television network.”
Plunkett told USCP officers their aim was to record comedy skits outside the offices of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Robert Smigel, who voices Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, was with the group. He told officers that the skits included the players pretending to leave messages under the doors of lawmakers.
“The note was allegedly an invitation to a cocaine orgy,” Manger wrote his letter to Davis and Jordan.
That’s a reference to claims by Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., that fellow lawmakers invited him to cocaine-fueled parties in Washington.
The officer who booted the Colbert 9 from the Cannon House Office Building then arrived on the scene. That officer said that the group tried to conduct unescorted interviews in the hallway near the Jan. 6 hearing location. That’s why he kicked them out earlier. Manger wrote that the comedy team “violated the regulations a second time, and officers took them into custody for unlawful entry.”
Seven of those arrested gave statements to USCP when interviewed. Two invoked Miranda rights.
However, prosecutors determined it would be challenging to win a conviction in court and dropped the charges.
“We do not believe it is probable that the office would be able to obtain and sustain convictions on these charges,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington, D.C.
This is why Manger is disappointed. Fox is told that some with the Capitol Police are seething, believing the U.S. Attorney’s Office threw the force under the bus. It’s hard to secure the Capitol complex after an incident like this goes unprosecuted.
Granted, the Colbert 9 may not have posed a threat like rioters on Jan. 6. But they didn’t follow protocol. Conduct of the team alarmed at least one aide. Nerves on Capitol Hill remain frayed after the riot. So it’s no surprise that an aide toiling in a congressional office after hours would be rattled and call the cops.
Fox is told that Capitol Police weren’t pleased last year after prosecutors didn’t prosecute Dale Paul Melvin after he parked his Chevy Tahoe in front of the Supreme Court and refused to leave. Police locked down the area and charged Melvin with failure to obey and assault on a police officer.
But, in February, Melvin returned, again parking his vehicle near the High Court.
“After some discussion, Melvin agreed to leave the area,” the USCP said in a statement.
There was no arrest the second time.
This is the challenge facing the police protecting the Capitol after the riot. And it creates an optics problem for Capitol Hill security forces in the shadow of Jan. 6.