Pro-Trump rioters stole Nancy Pelosi's and other top lawmakers' laptops and iPads, Democrats say

The alleged thefts by the pro-Trump mob could pose "national security" risks, said DOJ prosecutor Michael Sherwin

By Igor Derysh
January 8, 2021 8:57PM (UTC)
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Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he protest inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Numerous computers and electronic devices were stolen during the pro-Trump Capitol riot on Wednesday, potentially posing a national security risk, according to the Justice Department.

A laptop belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was stolen during the riot, an aide told Reuters on Friday. Drew Hammill, Pelosi's chief of staff, said the laptop was from a conference room and was "only used for presentations." House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said his iPad was also stolen during the riot, according to CNN. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., previously said in a video that rioters stole his laptop after breaking into his office as well.

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Merkley posted a video showing the "trail of destruction" the pro-Trump mob left in his office. He said the rioters "smashed the door almost off its hinges" even though it was "unlocked" and they could have simply opened the door.

Journalists previously captured the moment that pro-Trump rioters invaded Pelosi's office and ransacked her belongings. One of the men later bragged to a reporter that he stole an envelope from the speaker's desk.

"I wrote her a nasty note, put my feet up on her desk," Richard Barnett told the New York Times.

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Barnett was charged with unlawful and violent entry and theft of public property on Friday, according to CBS News.

Another photo showed a man gleefully walking around the halls of Congress with Pelosi's podium. The Bradenton Herald identified the man as Adam Johnson, a 36-year-old stay-at-home father of five from Florida.

A video recorded by ITV showed protesters walking with pieces of a wooden plaque that marked the entrance to Pelosi's office.

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the rioters also stole a tribute to the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

The office of Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough was also completely ransacked.

Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. Attorney in Washington, told reporters on Thursday that there was a "large amount of pilfering at the Capitol" that "could have potential national security equities."

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"This is probably going to take several days to flesh out exactly what happened, what was stolen, what wasn't," he said. "[But] electronic items were stolen from senators' offices. Documents, materials were stolen, and we have to identify what was done [and] mitigate that."

CBS News reported on Thursday that a laptop "possibly containing sensitive national security information" was among the items stolen on Wednesday.

National security experts also worry that rioters could have planted devices to spy on lawmakers.

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"A lot of planning goes into an installation of a bug even though it may only take seconds to install," a former FBI official told BuzzFeed News. "I think it's unlikely just based on my opinion the breach wasn't premeditated to the point where someone could have done proper advanced planning for an install, but something crude could have been left behind."

"What you're really looking for is something from those people who might be on an interesting committee — Foreign Affairs or whatever — who might have some documents," added Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at Royal United Services Institute in London. "But also you might have someone with budgetary documents that might give some sense of where money is going for various projects or agencies."

The Chief Administration Officer of the House told lawmakers on Thursday that staff took "several actions to ensure the House network and devices remained secure and to protect sensitive information." The statement said that the office issued commands to "lock computers and laptops" and shut down "wired network access to prevent inappropriate access to House data."

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"At this time, there have been no indications that the House network was compromised," the CAO said, warning lawmakers that "any removable media device that may have been subject to unauthorized access should be treated as potentially compromised and should not be used to store House sensitive data."

Senate aides were able to preserve the boxes of Electoral College ballots before rioters invaded the Senate chamber.

"Electoral College ballots rescued from the Senate floor," Merkley said on Wednesday. "If our capable floor staff hadn't grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob."

Sherwin said that 40 cases had already been filed in D.C. Superior Court, with charges including theft and illegal firearm possession. Fifteen federal charges have been filed as well, including unlawful entry, firearm possession, and theft.

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One man was charged with possession of a semiautomatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails that were "ready to go," he said.

"Make no mistake about this: It was a very dangerous situation," Sherwin said. "We are aggressively trying to address these cases as soon as possible."

Sherwin also did not rule out charging President Donald Trump for his role in fomenting the riot.

"We are looking at all actors, not only the people who went into the building," he said, adding, "If the evidence fits the elements of a crime, they're going to be charged."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregate Capitol Riot Donald Trump Jeff Merkley Jim Clyburn John Lewis Nancy Pelosi Politics