You can’t be in a House or Senate office building or anywhere in the U.S. Capitol without a minder.
Even if you’re Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) arrested seven production staffers from "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert — eight if you include the puppet dog — and charged them with unlawful entry last Thursday night.
Fox is told they were banging on the office doors of House Republicans in the Longworth House Office Building and being "disruptive, loud" and "theatrical" as they recorded comedy skits for the Late Show around 8:30 pm. Capitol Police had enough and arrested the crew near the office of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., on the sixth floor of Longworth.
The problem is that the "Colbert 7" weren’t even supposed to be inside the Capitol complex. Especially at that hour.
Here’s some background:
The House and Senate Radio/TV Galleries have a process for credentialing "electronic" news reporters, such as TV. The Radio/TV Correspondents Association (RTCA), comprised of journalists who cover Congress, typically determines who and what organizations qualify for a permanent or a temporary press pass to cover Congress. For instance, CBS News qualifies. A group from The Late Show does not. That’s entertainment.
Fox is told that Colbert’s crew applied for credentials to cover the Jan. 6 committee hearings. But the House Radio/TV Gallery put the kibosh on that. The issue never even reached the RTCA. The Late Show folks don’t qualify as "news" reporters.
Still, members of Colbert’s team showed up last week in the Cannon House Office Building for the hearing by the committee probing last year’s riot.
U.S. Capitol Police required a special "overlay" in addition to a standard press credential to cover or get near the area where the 1/6 committee conducts its hearings. But Colbert’s team appears to have ignored some of those parameters. They arrived earlier in the day Thursday to conduct interviews with Jan. 6 committee members Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. They also interviewed Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass. However, Auchincloss is not a member of the panel investigating the riot.
The Colbert group was milling about the area in the Cannon House Office Building where the Jan. 6 committee conducted its hearing last week. USCP booted them from the building since they didn’t have the proper credentials. However, Fox learned that the Late Night team came back and were let into the House office buildings by an Auchincloss aide sometime after 4:30 p.m. et Thursday. Fox is told that the Auchincloss staffer was told they had more interviews to do.
Which brings us the sixth floor of Longworth Thursday night.
The same group of officers who evicted the Colbert crew from near the hearing room earlier in the day came across them again. They lacked an escort. They weren’t credentialed. So the officers summoned a USCP captain.
Upon arrival, the captain determined they should arrest the Colbert 7. After all, they weren’t supposed to be in the Capitol complex at that hour unattended. This was augmented by the fact that they were bounced from the Cannon building earlier in the day.
Fox is told that the Colbert team was cooperative with USCP.
If there is a "demonstration" at the Capitol, USCP officers typically give the offenders "three warnings" before beginning arrests. The first warning advises the demonstrators they are breaking the law and are asked the leave. The second warning mirrors the first. USCP arrests suspects if they fail to comply with the third warning.
However, a source familiar with the investigation tells Fox, "This was not a demonstration. This was unlawful entry."
A source familiar with the investigation tells Fox USCP didn’t need to give them "three warnings" like what would happen with a demonstration.
It is rare to arrest people in the House and Senate office buildings after hours. USCP periodically encounter people who are "lost," wandering around the buildings after an evening reception and can’t find their way out. Those are honest mistakes and are treated differently. USCP arrested a group of "squatters" who came into the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in the Hart Senate Office Building several years ago during business hours. They refused to leave when the office was closing. Schumer aides called USCP. USCP arrested those persons after the "three commands" to leave.
The feds have charged 132 people with "knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds without Lawful Authority" in connection with last year’s riot. Only one person carries that as their sole charge. The FBI also charged many of these same suspects with far more serious crimes in addition to "unlawful entry." Members of the "Colbert 7" could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. However, Fox is told that a court would likely look at the Colbert suspects much differently than those who were part of the riot.
Just last week, a court found Couy Griffin of "Cowboys for Trump" guilty of a misdemeanor for entering the Capitol grounds — even though he never broached the Capitol itself. A court sentenced Griffin to two weeks in prison. Griffin had already spent 20 days in jail. So Griffin received credit for time served and was sentenced to 60 hours of community service plus a year of supervised release. He also must pay a $3,000 fine.
Gracyn Dawn Courtright pleaded guilty to entering a restricted building after last year’s riot. Courtright was sentenced to one month in prison. She gets a year of supervised release following her sentence and must complete 60 hours of community service. Courtright was also fined $500.
There are also consequences for the committee investigation in all of this.
The Jan. 6 panel recently released what it termed video of a "surveillance tour" purportedly given by Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., the day before last year’s riot. The video shows Loudermilk showing people around the House office buildings and one individual snapping photos in curious places. Loudermilk said he knew some of the people who came to his office on Jan. 5 last year. But he did not know others who glommed on for the tour.
The Jan. 6 committee video showed a man — who supposedly was part of the tour given by Loudermilk — walking toward the Capitol on Jan. 6 and threatening to "take out" everyone from Schumer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Investigators interviewed the still-unnamed man. But he was never charged.
Republicans naturally pointed out that the only people arrested for improperly walking around a House office building were those from Colbert’s show.
Officials bolstered Congressional security after 9/11 in 2001. You can imagine concerns about security at the Capitol after the riot. That’s to say nothing of worries about a conflagration after the Supreme Court releases its abortion decision in the coming days or weeks. This is why there’s heightened concern about people lingering in House office buildings after hours — regardless of if they’re comedians for a late night TV show.
In fact, officials have bounced Smigel (and Triumph) from other venues too — ranging from the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Congress has always been the target of comedians. The Jan. 6 committee hearings are no exception.
College football coach Lou Holtz may have summed it up best:
"The problem with having a sense of humor is that the people you use it on aren’t in a very good mood," said Holtz.
And perhaps that’s the disposition of some lawmakers after this incident. And, the U.S. Capitol Police.