The House select committee investigating the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol has asked Representative Barry Loudermilk to give evidence about a tour he allegedly led the day before a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building.
In a letter to Mr Loudermilk, select committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vice-chair Liz Cheney informed Mr Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican, that the nine-member panel has obtained information regarding the alleged tour in the course of its’ probe into the worst attack on the Capitol since Major General Robert Ross ordered British troops to set it ablaze in 1814.
“The foregoing information raises questions to which the select committee must seek answers,” they said.
Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney noted that Democratic representatives had urged the Capitol Police to investigate what they described as “reconnaissance” tours in a letter sent the week after the attack.
The letter’s author, Representative Mickie Sherrill of New Jersey, said “visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress” who co-signed the letter with her “appeared to be associated” with the White House rally at which Mr Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” just before a group of them began assaulting Capitol Police.
“Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex. The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious. Given the events of January 6, the ties between these groups inside the Capitol Complex and the attacks on the Capitol need to be investigated,” she wrote.
Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney also noted that Republicans on the House administration committee — including Mr Loudermilk — “claimed to have reviewed security footage from the days preceding January 6th and determined that “[t]here were no tours, no large groups, no one with Maga hats on,” and said evidence reviewed by the select committee “directly contradicts that denial”.
It’s unclear whether Mr Loudermilk, who is in his fourth term representing Georgia’s 11th District, will appear for the 23 May interview requested by Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney or cooperate with the panel’s investigation in any way.
Other Republican representatives who have been asked to cooperate with the committee’s probe — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — have denounced the investigation as illegitimate and have refused to provide the committee with any information.
But the revelation that the select committee has obtained information about tour conducted the day before the 6 January attack indicates it may be able to answer one of the most enduring mysteries about that day.
Although the Capitol and the House and Senate office buildings connected to it are notoriously difficult to navigate, the mob of Mr Trump’s supporters appeared to move about the labrynthine complex with ease after entering through broken windows and forced doors.
One group ransacked the office of the Senate’s parliamentarian, where staffers would have normally had custody of the electoral vote certificates which were being counted at the joint session of congress that the riot temporarily delayed.
Members of the violent extremist group known as the Oath Keepers appeared to be familiar with the byzantine network of tunnels which runs beneath the Capitol and its’ adjacent office buildings.
In court documents, prosecutors have alleged that one member of the group sent an encrypted message during the attack which told co-conspirators that lawmakers were “in the tunnels under the capital [sic]” and urged the recipient to “seal them in” and “turn on gas”.
Another message sent as House members were being relocated to a secure location informed the accused insurrectionist that “all legislators” were “down in the tunnels, [three] floors down”.
Rioters were also able to find their way to the private offices of some high-ranking lawmakers — colloquially known as “hideaways” — even though the doors of such offices are unmarked and their locations closely-guarded.
Days after the attack, Representative James Clyburn — the third-ranking House Democrat — told CBS News he believed “something was going on” that day because rioters “knew where to go”.
Mr Clyburn said he believed his private office in the Capitol was targeted by the pro-Trump rioters because there had been “activity outside of my inner office where most people don’t know where that is”.
“The office with my name on the door was not touched. But the office where I do most of my work in, they were on that floor and outside that door,” he said.
Mr Clyburn said other members had told him of hearing that staffers “ saw people being allowed into the building through side doors”.
In the days following the riot, several GOP members, including Representatives Majorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn, were accused of leading the “reconnaissance” tours referenced by Ms Sherrill in the 13 January letter.
Ms Boebert, a first-term representative from Colorado, also drew scrutiny for having tweeted out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been evacuated from the House floor as rioters stormed the building, with one group heading directly for Ms Pelosi’s private offices on the Capitol’s first floor.
All three have denied giving tours to any rioters the day before the riot.