Three newly-elected Republican House members have denied giving "reconnaissance" tours to rally participants on Jan. 5, the day before the terrorist insurrection against the Capitol.
The lawmakers — Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — all told Salon that they had not escorted anyone that day outside of the course of normal legislative business. All three have come under fire for their public embrace of the Jan. 6 rally and its cause — baselessly and aggressively challenging President Joe Biden's election victory over outgoing President Donald Trump.
Boebert has faced the most scrutiny, after tweeting "1776" on the morning of the attack and offering vocal support from the House floor for her "constituents" gathered at the rally. She was also photographed at the rally itself, posing for pictures while Kylie Kremer of Trump booster group Women for America First addressed the crowd. During the siege, the Colorado fringe conservative, who has expressed admiration for the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been relocated. It was later revealed that insurrectionists planned to kidnap and assassinate elected officials, and several appeared equipped to do so.
Asked whether she had given any tours on Jan. 5, Boebert told Salon, "I did not. No."
Speculation about the newly-elected far-right Republican members escalated after Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., made the explosive claim that she had seen a fellow member giving what she described as a "reconnaissance" tour the day before the deadly attack. Thirty of her Democratic colleagues later signed on to a letter notifying the acting House sergeant at arms that some of them had noticed "unusually large groups of people throughout the Capitol" on Jan. 5, which they say could only happen with the help of a member of Congress or staff. Some of the people in those groups, the letter says, appeared to be connected to the following day's Stop the Steal rally, and the writers add that attackers seemed to have "an unusually detailed knowledge" of the building's complicated layout. The group has requested visitor logs and security camera footage from Jan. 5, and, pointedly, want to know whether law enforcement has also tried to access visitor information.
On Friday, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., perhaps inadvertently accelerated suspicions of Boebert when he told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace on Wednesday that he'd spoken with a colleague who described a member "showing people around" ahead of the attack, then quickly added that he had concerns about his "new colleagues."
Wallace asked Maloney if he could confirm there were tours the day before the attack, and while Maloney said he could, he admitted he had no firsthand knowledge, but had spoken to another member "who saw it personally, and he described it with some alarm."
Maloney continued, "Some of our new colleagues, the same ones, of course, who believe in conspiracy theories and who want to carry guns into the House chamber, who today — today — have been yelling at Capitol Police, shoving them, [the people] who a week ago were risking their lives to save ours. This conduct is beyond the pale, and it extends to some of this interaction with the very people who attacked the Capitol." He added that "it's a sad reality that we find ourselves at a place where the enemy is within, and we cannot trust our own colleagues."
Maloney, who had not signed Sherrill's letter, did not name Boebert or any other member, but his remarks, in their full context, fueled rumors that she was one of the "new colleagues" he was referring to. Along with her professed admiration for the QAnon conspiracy theory, Boebert has declared she will carry a gun on the House floor and has fiercely resisted the Capitol's new metal detector policies.
Maloney has not named the lawmaker in question, but said "that's going to be a real story," adding that this activity went beyond traditional congressional oversight into "criminal behavior under federal sedition laws."
Boebert's communications director, Ben Goldey, stepped down in the wake of Jan. 6, reportedly writing his resignation letter just hours after the attack. He told Salon that he has been inundated with messages from people suspicious of his former boss, whom he had only served for a few days.
"Internet warriors have been sending me messages, acting as if I know something and telling me I need to go to the FBI — which of course I would do if there was something to say," Goldey told Salon.
Boebert responded angrily on Friday at what she called Maloney's "false and baseless conspiracy claims," which she said had implicated her personally and led to death threats and harassment. Maloney replied that he had never said her name in public, and pointed to the interview transcript as proof.
Two other newly-elected members, Cawthorn and Greene, fit parts of Maloney's description of the lawmakers that caused him concern: Both advocate for carrying guns in the Capitol building (something a senior aide told Salon is more common than has been reported), and both have, to varying degrees, embraced conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. Greene has publicly endorsed the ridiculous QAnon theories, which center on claims that Democratic leaders rape and cannibalize children.
Spokespeople for both Cawthorn and Greene denied allegations that they showed visitors around on Jan. 5. A spokesperson for Greene told Salon that she had worked in the Capitol building all day, and that any video from that day would show her accompanied only by staff in the halls.
Unlike Boebert and Greene, Cawthorn gave a speech at the Stop the Steal rally ahead of the ratification of Biden's victory, saying, "This crowd has some fight in it" and adding that "the Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice. Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard." Weeks earlier, the freshman member from former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' onetime North Carolina district, told an audience it should "lightly threaten" lawmakers to support "election integrity," remarks that have led to calls for his resignation. Cawthorn also carries a firearm in the Capitol. A Cawthorn spokesperson, however, flatly denied any involvement in the alleged tours in a conversation with Salon.
Cawthorn himself has denied blame for the violence, telling Charlotte's Spectrum News1 on Monday that he was in fact "trying to stop it."
"I wouldn't say we were complicit in anyone storming the Capitol. Actually, I think we were, in many ways, trying to stop it. You know, I went and spoke at the rally outside of the White House. And I literally said, I'm about to go to the Capitol to fight this fight for all of you, you have a voice in me, I'm here to fight on your behalf," Cawthorn told the outlet.
It seems likely that Maloney did not mean to imply that one of those three lawmakers had given the tour in question. Multiple current and former congressional staff tell Salon that it's unlikely any of the three could have developed a deep understanding of the labyrinthine Capitol corridors in their first few days in office, knowledge that lawmakers and staff typically accumulate over years.
Asked Sunday about the feud with Boebert, Maloney told MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart that she had "jumped to a conclusion and didn't bother to look at what I said."
"She apologized, by the way, a short while later because we produced the transcript which demonstrated her comments, her tweet, her letter were farcically stupid and wrong," he continued. "So the problem is when you get this kind of incompetence mixed together with arrogance, when people believe that they're right when they are demonstrably wrong."
But on Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., reignited the suspicions, telling CNN's Jim Scuitto that he and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., had seen Boebert with a group in the Capitol tunnels in the days leading up to the attack — although he could not specify the precise date, nor say whether those people were part of the siege.
"Congressman Yarmuth refreshed my recollection yesterday," Cohen said. "We saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th. ... Now, whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know."
In response, Boebert sent Cohen a letter calling his comments "false" and "slanderous." While she acknowledged that she had shown family members around on Jan. 2 and 3 — the day she was sworn into office — she said the tours had stopped there.
"I haven't given a tour of the U.S. Capitol in the 117th Congress to anyone but family," she tweeted.
In a text message with Salon, Cohen said that he had not seen Boebert showing anyone around on Jan. 5, the day of the alleged "reconnaissance" tours. It is unclear why he did not rule out that day in his CNN interview on Monday.
None of this rules out the central allegation that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists had inside knowledge of the Capitol and possibly assistance. The public record suggests that is at least plausible. For instance, a number of Republican elected officials had heavily promoted the rally, most specifically Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who coordinated for weeks with key organizers. One of them cited Gosar and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama by name as helping foment a "maximum pressure" campaign on Congress.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, chair of the House subcommittee that oversees funding for the Capitol Police, said on Jan. 12 that "a couple" of his colleagues seemed to fit Sherrill's description, and that this information had been passed to authorities as soon as the night of the attack.
"You look back on certain things and you look at it differently," Ryan said.