The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday that Donald Trump has a duty to call off his supporters in light of a potential threat against the US Capitol on Thursday — less than two months after the January 6 Capitol insurrection incited by the former President.
“I think President Trump has a responsibility to tell them to stand down — this threat is credible, it’s real,” Rep. Michael McCaul told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” when asked whether Trump should be more forcefully dismiss the notion he could still be inaugurated on March 4.
“It’s a right-wing militia group that believes that the original — because the original inaugural day was March 4 until the 20th Amendment passed, they think this is the true inauguration day and that President Trump should be inaugurated tomorrow. And that is the threat we face right now,” the Texas Republican continued.
McCaul’s message to Trump comes as information provided by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security has warned of increased chatter among extremists, including members of the Three Percenters extremist group, discussing possible plots against the Capitol on March 4, a date that conspiracy theorists have focused on, according to sources familiar with the matter.
QAnon conspiracy theorists believe Trump will be inaugurated on March 4, returning him to the presidency. Between 1793 and 1933, inauguration often fell on March 4 or a surrounding date.
After rioters in January stormed the Capitol complex and threatened lawmakers’ lives in an effort to stymie Congress’ ceremonial counting of the electoral votes, it took Trump several hours to eventually encourage his supporters to “go home in peace” — a tweet that came at the urging of his top aides.
While the US Capitol was under attack, Trump also said the rioters cared more about the election results than House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy did in an expletive-laced phone call. Congressional Republicans told CNN last month that the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene, with several saying it amounted to a dereliction of his presidential duty.
McCaul told Tapper on Wednesday that law enforcement is “absolutely” more ready this time than they were on January 6.
“The Capitol is fortified like a compound,” he said. “We have razor wire around the Capitol complex, we have National Guard surrounding the Capitol, so we feel much safer.”
Security officials have shared rapidly updating information about the potential Thursday threat. Acting Sergeant at Arms Timothy P. Blodgett sent a letter to members dated March 1, when he said USCP had received “no indication” that there are groups traveling to Washington to protest “or commit acts of violence.”
But his posture shifted drastically in a letter sent to members Wednesday stating that Capitol Police has “received new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th — 6th by a militia group.”
Yoganada Pittman, the acting chief of the US Capitol Police department, told Congress that her department has “concerning intelligence” concerning the next few days in Congress but declined to share it in a public hearing Wednesday morning.
The department is in an “enhanced” security posture and the National Guard and the US Capitol Police force have been told what to expect in the coming days, Pittman told lawmakers, asserting that the department is “working with all of our law enforcement partners in the DC Capitol region to make sure that all of the intelligence we have and the threats to the campus, that we are prepared to respond appropriately.”
The FBI said in a statement that “while our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is constantly gathering and sharing intelligence with our law enforcement partners. We are always on alert for any potential threats.”
Even as security is increased, law enforcement says it is not clear the discussion has moved beyond talk among extremist group members. One source noted to CNN that it is mostly online talk and not necessarily an indication anyone is coming to Washington to act on it.
But lawmakers are still taking precautions.
The House intends to vote on a police reform bill Wednesday night that they were planning to take up Thursday. A Democratic aide had told CNN earlier Wednesday that there was discussion of the House staying late to avoid coming in Thursday in light of Capitol Police warning about security risks.