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Head of Capitol security review calls for background checks on all congressional staff

The leader of a task force that reviewed security failures around the January 6 insurrection reiterated his call on Monday for background checks on all congressional staff following yet another deadly attack at the US Capitol.

But Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto, also pushed back on claims that the Capitol Police is unable to currently fulfill its mission of protecting lawmakers, calling the assertion “BS.”

Honoré said that his team did not investigate allegations that some Republican lawmakers and staff gave tours to those who later participated in the January 6 riot, but said he continues to support recommendations for conducting background checks on everyone working at the Capitol — a potentially massive undertaking that raises several logistical and political questions. Currently, there is only a background check process for staffers who apply for security clearances.

“We made recommendations that everyone coming into the Capitol give background checks, the entire Congressional staff,” Honoré said. “We do think that everyone going into the Capitol, that works there, should have complete background checks and we need to improve the ability to process people with vestibules outside of the Capitol so people can comes in, be quickly screened and go through using the best technology.”

To date, Democrats who alleged that Republican members and staff were providing these tours ahead of January 6 have not provided any concrete evidence to support their claims, and GOP members have bristled at any suggestion they coordinated with rioters in any way.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has faced criticism over her handling of the Capitol security review process, including her move to unilaterally tap Honoré to conduct his independent assessment of the situation, questioning her willingness to move forward with an independent commission to further examine security failures around the insurrection in a bipartisan way.

Some key Republicans have indicated they would be inclined to support some of Honore’s recommendations if they were offered reassurances that the changes would be implemented in a non-partisan way but so far, the two sides appear to be in a holding pattern and it is unclear how Friday’s attack at the Capitol might impact discussions about security on Capitol Hill.

At the same time, Honoré indicated Monday that there are even differences of opinion among those who support his recommendations.

Specifically, Honoré contradicted comments made by the USCP union chief over the weekend in which he claimed the department was “struggling to meet existing mission requirements” while calling on Congress to hire hundreds of new police officers to ensure the safety of the Capitol.

Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement Saturday that the Capitol Police is staffed below its authorized level by 233 officers and could face larger staffing shortages as officers retire in the coming years. Papathanasiou noted the shortage is exacerbated by the continued injuries of several officers in the January 6 attack.

“That’s BS. The Capitol Police can meet the mission,” Honoré told CNN on Monday when asked about Papathanasiou’s comments, adding that while he understands the union chief’s “enthusiasm” in pushing to hire additional officers, the claim is an “overstatement.”

“We made the recommendation that they need to get the funding to recruit and hire the 233 officers they are short, Honoré said. We made a recommendation to hire another additional 800 officers. Those recommendations are there, it’s up to Congress to take action.”

But in the short term, it is clear the USCP department is reeling after losing officers this year. Officer William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force and a member of its “First Responders Unit,” died after Friday’s attack, while the officer who was injured Friday has been released from the hospital, according to a law enforcement source.

Officer Brian Sicknick died after the January insurrection due to injuries he sustained during the incident and another officer died by suicide after responding to the riot.

“We are struggling to meet existing mission requirements even with the officers working massive amounts of forced overtime,” Papathanasiou said. “I’ve had many younger officers confide in me that they’re actively looking at other agencies and departments right now.”

Papathanasiou endorsed the recommendations of Honoré’s task force, which called for increased Capitol Police staffing among several changes, and said in the task force’s report that Capitol Police “were understaffed, insufficiently equipped and inadequately trained to secure the Capitol and Members” on January 6.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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