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Recent assaults, attempted attacks against Congress and staffers raise concerns

Recent assaults against Congress and staffers
Concern about assaults and attempted attacks against Congress and staffers 01:59

U.S. Capitol Police found the razor nearby, but not the suspected attacker. Three young women who work for Rep. Mike Carey, an Ohio Republican, made a late afternoon three-block trek to a coffee shop on Capitol Hill in September, the congressman told a House panel this week. A man lunged at them with a razor and threatened to attack. The women were uninjured, but shaken by the incident, an office spokesperson said.

The attempted assault is one of a recent series of attacks or crimes committed against congressional staff or lawmakers, outside of the immediate Capitol complex, since the beginning of 2023. Several of the incidents were violent, according to court filings and police reports reviewed by CBS News.

Amid concerns about the recent reports, the House Committee on Administration called the U.S. Capitol Police chief to testify Thursday about crime risks facing those who work at the Capitol complex.  Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger said new initiatives are being launched to help protect the thousands of people who work on Capitol Hill from being targeted or assaulted near the complex or in their hometown offices.

Carey, speaking at the hearing, referenced the incident involving his staff briefly during his remarks.  

"We had three of our young staffers that were just walking back on Capitol Hill that were attacked by a homeless guy with a knife," he said. A police summary reviewed by CBS News said the suspect lunged at the women with a sharp metal object, but he couldn't be found after police canvassed the area. A razor blade was located nearby.

Manger told the House panel some other recent incidents included a "member and a staff member carjacked and a staff member assaulted after the (annual) congressional baseball game."

In March last year, A Senate staffer suffered potential brain bleeding and a punctured lung in a stabbing attack near a restaurant in Northeast Washington, D.C., several blocks away from the Capitol campus. Police arrested Glynn Neal of Washington, D.C. shortly after the alleged attack. Neal's criminal case remains on hold as he undergoes mental competency observation, according to court documents reviewed by CBS News.

Weeks earlier, a D.C. man punched and attempted to trap Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota in the elevator of Craig's Capitol Hill apartment complex.  

Craig escaped by throwing hot coffee at Kendrid Hamlin and racing off the elevator at the next stop. Hamlin pleaded guilty in the case and is serving a 27-month prison sentence. He had a lengthy series of prior offenses.

Manger said his agency is "adapting" to respond to threats off the Capitol grounds.  

"Keeping you and your families safe is my paramount objective," he told the panel. Manger added that threats against members of Congress have occurred with increasing frequency in the hometowns and home states of senators and House members. And family members have been targeted, too, he noted, pointing to the 2022 assault of Paul Pelosi, husband of the former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Manger told the committee that the Capitol Police have begun to construct a "protective intelligence operations center," which he said would serve as a command center for the protective units serving members of Congress. Among the missions of the unit is providing security measures at their homes, "residential security monitoring for protectees," Manger said.

The recent attacks in Washington, D.C., though not indicative of any specific failures by law enforcement, are a source of rising concerns for lawmakers.  

Rep. Stephanie Bice, a Republican from Oklahoma, told CBS News, "I want young people to want to come here and work in the nation's capital. I want them to get an experience, but if their families are worried about their safety, they're not going to do that."

Members of Congress are already facing a rising number of threats, many of which are politically motivated. U.S. Capitol Police reports show more than 8,000 threat investigations in 2023, hundreds more than in 2022 and thousands more than nearly a decade ago. Capitol security officials have responded with a number of new initiatives, including issuing satellite phones to  senators and providing police protection during some air travel. 

"The department's traditional model of law enforcement no longer applies to the current context. The old approach of member protection has been replaced by the need to protect a member's environment, as well as a member's family," Manger told the committee.

Congressional leaders released a plan Thursday to provide funding for U.S. Capitol Police for the coming months. The agency has been seeking funds to help recruit more officers and fill vacancies. A spokesman told CBS News the agency hopes upcoming funding will "continue to increase our staffing, enhance our intelligence capabilities to keep pace with advancing technology, and modernize our Department with the latest physical and technical security measures to improve Member safety on Capitol Hill and in their home districts."

Unlike other federal facilities, the Capitol complex isn't walled-in or surrounded by permanent fencing.  It is surrounded by businesses and residential communities, in which driving and public parking is permitted.  Manger said, "We patrol a campus that is completely open. The public has a constitutional right to visit, protest, and petition their Representatives on Capitol Grounds." In recent months, police stopped a person suspected of having a high-powered firearm near the US Senate office buildings.

In many of the recent attempted assaults and attacks, congressional staff and members were targeted off-campus, where Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police (MPD) have jurisdiction. At the Thursday House hearing, a D.C. police union representative warned the agency is struggling with staffing shortages. Union president Gregg Pemberton said, "The MPD currently has over 500 vacancies for the position of sworn officer, and our chief of police has testified that it will take over a decade to fill them."

Some of the recent attacks against congressional staff and members were swiftly investigated and led to arrests, including the assault against Craig.  

The D.C. Metropolitan Police said in a statement to CBS News, "Officers are working everyday to curtail crime and keep residents and visitors safe in every corner of the District of Columbia. MPD works closely with federal law enforcement to ensure safety throughout Capitol Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods."

Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington, D.C. in the House, contended in a statement that Republican claims of heightened danger were based on faulty statistics, and she referred to the committee hearing as "a scare tactic."

"Crime is falling in D.C. across almost all measurements," Norton said. "It is ironic that Republicans in Congress, who do not represent D.C., are abusing their undemocratic power over D.C. for a House Administration Committee hearing based on outdated information, in a hearing that serves no legislative purpose."

But multiple House members who spoke with CBS News expressed concern about the impact of nearby crime on staff, visitors and future employees of Congress. Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, a New York Republican who previously worked in law enforcement, told CBS News the issue of crime "continues to negatively impact all who live, work, or visit our nation's capital."

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