REPS AT RISK Legislators, aides and FBI take threats more


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The number of FBI investigations into threats against members of Congress spiked in the wake of former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ shooting, according to documents obtained by The Daily.  
In the nine months following Jared Lee Loughner’s murderous rampage, the FBI opened up at least 38 cases based on threats against specific members of Congress, as well as a handful of generic threats against unnamed members. This was a notable increase from the previous year, when the bureau opened 26 cases over a 12-month span, according to FBI documents. A 2010 analysis by Politico found that investigations into threats against members of Congress had steadily declined over the decade following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 2011 documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Daily.
Terrance Gainer, the Senate sergeant at arms, said the spike in cases last year was due to greater vigilance on the parts of members and their staffs in the wake of Loughner’s Jan. 8, 2011, shooting spree that left six people dead and 12 wounded, including Giffords.
“One of the many things we did after the Giffords shooting was really ping on the staffs, especially in state offices, to report anything and everything to us, even if it didn’t hit your concern radar before,” Gainer said.
In most instances, the FBI closed the case after following up on an initial lead, perhaps after interviewing the suspect in person. Other times, the bureau referred the matter to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Last week, Gainer and his counterpart in the House, Paul Irving, began briefing newly elected members of Congress on security procedures. This will mark the first freshman class since Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range. The last time a member of Congress was shot on American soil was in 1954, when four members of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement opened fire in the U.S. Capitol, wounding several members.
According to the FBI files obtained by The Daily, most of the subjects who made threats against members of Congress last year later expressed remorse when confronted by law enforcement officials, and denied any serious intent to cause harm. Typically, the bureau was satisfied with these initial concessions and closed the case, or referred it to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, which ultimately declined to prosecute. In a few instances, subjects deemed mentally ill were institutionalized, while one person pleaded guilty.
Some of the cases involved violent rhetoric in online forums. Four days after the Giffords shooting, the FBI subpoenaed the IP address of an individual blogging on an unnamed “political debate website.” The person had written: “Now that its clear that Conservative leaders are conspiring to get Democrat congressmen assassinated are we not obligated by honor to strike back at conservative congressmen?” The FBI eventually provided the writer’s identity to the Capitol Police.
The FBI also investigated an online posting that stated: “I hope all the libs in congress get assassinated. Hell, I’ll do it myself.” It is unclear what resulted from either of these investigations.
In August 2011, the FBI investigated a threatening voice mail left at the office of Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., after the congressman used the racially charged phrase “tar baby” on a local radio show while discussing his disagreements with the White House over the debt ceiling. Lamborn later apologized to President Obama, but the angry Nevada man who left the voice message nevertheless warned that he would “personally b*tch slap” the congressman.
At least six of the cases were in response to Facebook or Twitter postings. In August 2011, agents showed up at the residence of a college-age man in Ohio who tweeted of his inclinations to “act on every dark impulse flowing through my body” after watching a television report describing Rep. Michele Bachmann’s position on the minimum wage.
Republicans were the targets in slightly — but not significantly — more threats than Democrats, although Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was the most threatened of all members. Documents show three separate FBI investigations related to threats against the West Coast lawmaker. One man, Kevin Joseph O’Connell, pleaded guilty last October to making death threats against Boxer, the only known conviction for a death threat against a member of Congress since Giffords was shot.


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