The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C. jail officials turn away GOP members of Congress who showed up to check on Jan. 6 suspects

Republican Reps Matt Gaetz (Fla.), left, Louie Gohmert (Tex.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) are seen after a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

D.C. jail officials turned away GOP members of Congress who showed up Thursday at the jail, saying they intended to inspect the treatment of suspects detained in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Trailed by cameras from right-wing news organizations, Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Tex.) crowded into the lobby of the D.C. detention facility demanding to be let inside as members of Congress.

A D.C. jail official told them they were “obstructing entrance into this facility” and appeared to accuse the members of trespassing.

“We’re the people that vote on whether or not to fund you, at what level, and we’re trespassing?” Gohmert responded.

The D.C. detention center is not a federal facility and is fully funded by D.C. taxpayers — but Congress has oversight over D.C.’s budget.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said their “attempt to basically try to break into the D.C. jail is an abuse of their authority over the District.”

“Congress doesn’t have any authority over the D.C. jail. That’s a home-rule issue,” Norton said. “So no member of Congress, or anybody else, is entitled to special access to the D.C. jail.”

The action at the jail was the group’s second this week, after they barged into the Justice Department on Tuesday trying to ask questions about the detention of Jan. 6 suspects awaiting trial and whether any were being held in solitary confinement. Gosar called them “political prisoners” who are being “persecuted” and unjustly punished before trial. Reps. Bob Good (R-Va.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) joined the group. All have opposed a probe of Jan. 6 and voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who responded that day.

Their news conference Tuesday was interrupted by a group of protesters, including a person who repeatedly blew a whistle for the duration. “To the guy that’s blowing the whistle,” Greene said, “we are not deterred.”

They attempted Thursday to tell D.C. jail officials the same thing, knocking on locked doors after a supervisor declined to allow them to tour the facility. They said they showed their congressional IDs and even agreed to wear face masks to try to gain entry. But when the answer remained no, Gohmert said they “were in totalitarian Marxist territory here” and accused D.C. jail officials of operating a “dictatorship.”

“We suspect there is a two-tier justice system in the United States, for Trump supporters that are charged for Jan. 6 and catch-and-release for BLM rioters,” Greene said.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Corrections said in a statement that the members of Congress arrived “unannounced with an unauthorized camera crew requesting a facility tour.

“By doing so, these officials compromised safety and security operations at the DOC,” the spokeswoman said, adding that all visitors, including public officials, must comply with visitation rules.

D.C. officials revealed in court in March that they were holding suspects in the Jan. 6 insurrection in “restrictive housing” — separate from the general population — for the suspects’ own protection from assault by other inmates.

The D.C. jail also faced scrutiny earlier this year for its draconian but since-relaxed 23-hour coronavirus-related lockdowns — but those applied to all inmates, not any one group.

It’s unclear exactly how many Jan. 6 suspects are being held there, or whether they remain in restrictive housing. A Washington Post analysis found in May that about 50 suspects tied to the attack on the Capitol remained held without bond awaiting trial, about 13 percent of more than 400 defendants. But they also are scattered in facilities across the country. Although the cases are federal, some of those charged are held in local facilities before trial under agreements with federal authorities.

The 13 percent of Jan. 6 defendants held in jail before trial is much lower than the roughly 75 percent of federal defendants held in jail before trial nationwide, including in immigration custody, The Post’s analysis found. Defendants denied bond were accused of violent offenses — such as assaulting police — or weapons violations, while others were accused of being part of a wider conspiracy. A few defendants have successfully challenged their pretrial detention in court.

Gohmert and Gosar later tried to say that they were concerned about all people at the D.C. jail being held before trial, saying no one should be punished without being found guilty.

But Greene undercut that claim when she interrupted Gohmert during an ad hoc news conference outside the facility, saying, “Wait, I have a question: What if we had been here just to check on the entire population?”

When Gohmert insisted that’s what they were doing, Greene quickly agreed.