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How top congressional aides are addressing increased fears they have for safety of lawmakers and their staff

Threats surge against top congressional aides
Surge in threats against top congressional aides 03:49

Now in his 12th year as a U.S. House aide, Mitchell Rivard acknowledges he's increasingly worried about the harassment and threats against his colleagues — much more so than in the past.   

Rivard, the chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, said some of the calls made to his congressional office are at times so intimidating and so threatening that he tries to intervene to spare junior staffers from the hostility of the callers.

He said he now advises his staff to transfer these calls to his cellphone and to forward any threatening messages to him.  

"If they're raising their voice, they're using inappropriate language or if they're making you uncomfortable, transfer them directly to me," Rivard told CBS News he has told his colleagues.

Rivard says he and a group of his fellow top House aides have held meetings about how to handle the toxic atmosphere of this political moment, which has seen a surge in the number of threats against members of Congress and their offices.   

"The atmosphere in Congress wasn't amazing when Congressman Kildee got here, but it certainly hasn't gotten any better," Rivard said. "When it comes to safety and security, I have to think constantly and frequently much more than I ever had before."

Undated: L-R: Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) with his chief of staff, Mitchell Rivard Provided by Mitchell Rivard

A survey of dozens of top congressional aides conducted by the nonprofit Congressional Management Foundation reveals large majorities are feeling "anxiety and/or fear" about the safety of working in their jobs, and concerns about threats against Members of Congress during events and public appearance. 

The survey, completed by 138 top congressional aides, showed a larger percentage of longer-tenured aides and female staffers were mostly likely to acknowledge fears of safety because of their jobs. Among the findings of the report: 70% of staffers said they have experienced "direct insulting or threatening messages or communications" while on the job. Nearly three out of four Senate staffers said they had frequently experienced anxiety about the safety of members of Congress.

And 38% of longtime aides — including women and those who've worked in congressional offices for longer than 11 years — question whether they should leave their jobs now due to safety concerns.  


The foundation's study said Democratic respondents were more likely to report anxieties than Republicans, even though incidents of harassing and threatening messages were reported broadly by staffers of both parties. 


"Jan. 6 was still looming in many people's minds," said Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former top congressional aide. "The death threats that are coming into offices haven't abated," Fitch said. "This is a disturbing trend. I was just working with some interns last week, and it was shocking to me the number of death threats that they've received."

"The front door swung open..."

Last week, a Florida man pleaded guilty to a federal charge for making phone threats against Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, and his children. According to a signed plea agreement, Michael Shapiro acknowledged calling Swalwell's office and leaving a message that said, "I'm gonna come and kiil your children you mother-f*****. I'm gonna kill your children."

Prosecutors and defense attorneys noted Shapiro's claim that he was angered about Swalwell and intoxicated when leaving the message, according to the plea agreement.  

"When played an audio recording of a threatening message left with the Congressional office, the defendant stated, ''I don't know what to tell you, it sounds like a drunk man.'"

The menacing behavior isn't limited to phone calls or social media trolling. In May 2023, Xuan-Kha Tran Pham, 50, allegedly wielded a baseball bat and attacked staffers in the Fairfax, Va., office of Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly. An FBI affidavit said Pham was demanding to talk to Connolly, a longtime Northern Virginia congressman.

A staffer was training a new intern in administrative tasks, and "[s]uddenly, the front door swung open and Pham, wielding a baseball bat, charged through it," the affidavit said. "Using the bat, Pham struck (the victim) on the head, causing her to fall to the floor." 

Pham has not entered a plea in his federal case, which has been pending in federal court in Alexandria, Va., since mid-May, according to a review of the court docket. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to say why the case has stalled.

Not all of the recent attacks against Congress or staff have political overtones. Kendrid Hamlin, 27, will be in prison in Pennsylvania until April 2025 for assaulting Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat attacked in her Capitol Hill apartment building in February 2023.  

Hamlin trapped and punched Craig in the elevator of Craig's apartment complex tried to enter Craig's apartment, according to court documents. She escaped after throwing hot coffee at Hamlin and running from the elevator at its next stop.   

Though Hamlin pleaded guilty, Craig's letter to the court at a sentencing hearing underscored the ongoing pain and recovery from the attack.

"He grabbed my neck and slammed me into the steel wall," she wrote. "He punched me in the face."   

Craig also said she's since been the subject of death threats and doxing amid the media attention of the assault. She wrote that her "mental and emotional recovery" is ongoing.

"Heated political rhetoric" that is "unprecedented and alarming"

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger will be testifying this week at a Senate hearing to argue for 2025 funding for the department's security initiatives. He warned of rising threats against lawmakers at a House hearing last month.  

"Our country is in the midst of an historical rise in threats that is flamed by the current climate of heated political rhetoric; it is both unprecedented and alarming," he said at the House hearing. "Over the past year, we have seen a dangerous rise in acts of violence against Members of Congress, their families and staff."

Three federal prosecutors have been assigned to help the Capitol Police handle cases involving threats. They'll be based in Tampa, San Jose, Calif. and Washington, D.C.   The prosecutors bring and will further develop an expertise in handling the threats against federal officials.

Rep. David Valadao, a Cailfornia Republican who recently took over as chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for Capitol Police, told CBS News he recently met with the Capitol Police chief and House Sergeant at Arms to talk about the security of members and their families in their hometowns.   

"I think most members of Congress have had experiences — in a negative way — when it comes to threats and things like that," Valadao said.

"Safety questions are relevant" for staffers considering whether to keep working in Congress

Fitch said the harassment and intimidation incidents risk fueling attrition among congressional aides.  

"Capitol Hill is a plum job for many people, but clearly the mental pressure and mental wellness issues are unfortunate," he said. "The safety questions are relevant for people when they consider whether they want to keep their jobs in Congress." 

Staffers organized a support and trauma group that met regularly in the months after the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. One organizer said the group recently stopped its formal meetings, but it made strides in responding to the trauma and fear suffered after the attack.   

Another founder said, "It helped us connect with one another to talk about it ... to share our experiences with each other and compare."

Rivard said congressional staffers are experiencing more pressure as their workloads increase and concern about heightened threats. He helps operate an association of congressional chiefs of staff to exchange ideas about how to respond to the stresses: "We try to bring folks together to hopefully make this place work in this pretty partisan times."

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