In a remarkable charge, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) said on a live chat that on the day before the mob assault on our seat of government, she witnessed “members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol” for “reconnaissance.”

This extraordinary claim, seemingly made in passing on Tuesday night, went viral in a big way, since it seemed to suggest that Republican members of Congress might have somehow conspired with groups that invaded the Capitol, causing mayhem and death.

Now, Sherrill is amplifying the charge — and this time, she’s joined by nearly three dozen other Democrats, who are also claiming they witnessed “suspicious” activity.

Those Democrats have now sent a letter to the acting sergeants at arms of both the House and Senate and the acting chief of the Capitol Police, demanding information that, they say, could shed light on their allegations.

The letter says:

Many of the Members who signed this letter, including those of us who have served in the military and are trained to recognize suspicious activity, as well as various members of our staff, witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups in the complex on Tuesday, January 5. This is unusual for several reasons, including the fact that access to the Capitol Complex has been restricted since public tours ended in March of last year due to the pandemic.
The tours being conducted on Tuesday, January 5, were a noticeable and concerning departure from the procedures in place as of March 2020 that limited the number of visitors to the Capitol. These tours were so concerning that they were reported to the Sergeant at Arms on January 5.
The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day. That group left the White House and marched to the Capitol with the objective of preventing Congress from certifying our election. Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex. The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious. Given the events of January 6, the ties between these groups inside the Capitol Complex and the attacks on the Capitol need to be investigated.
It is important that we feel safe in the halls of Congress, and we applaud the Sergeant at Arms (SAA) and US Capitol Police (USCP) for their efforts. But the fact remains that there were unusually large groups of people throughout the Capitol who could only have gained access to the Capitol Complex from a Member of Congress or a member of their staff.

The letter goes on to demand answers to a series of questions, such as whether the sergeants at arms keep records of visitors brought in by specific members of Congress or staffers, whether they will provide such records, whether law enforcement is examining them, and whether any visitors on Jan. 5 are being investigated for any role in the riot.

It’s hard to know what to make of this story. In her video chat, Sherrill seemed to declare very clearly that she had sighted specific members of Congress bringing in groups, noting that it was expressly to conduct “reconnaissance.”

But the letter names no specific members who were allegedly sighted. And the letter does not reiterate the charge that specific members shepherded these groups.

Yet the Democrats on the letter appear to be taking this quite seriously. And they are reiterating the claim that they saw something highly unusual, in the “extremely high number of outside groups” they say they witnessed in the Capitol.

And some of those on the letter are members of Congress with serious national security, military and executive-branch backgrounds, such as Sherrill and Reps. Elaine Luria (Va.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), and Tom Malinowski (N.J.).

Beyond all this, efforts to establish whether there might have been some sort of coordination in a broader sense haven’t gotten very far.

News organizations have uncovered examples of Republican lawmakers encouraging people to descend on the Capitol while using martial and incendiary language. There are also examples of both lawmakers saying in now-deleted tweets that they’d met with people who came on Jan. 6 and of activists saying they worked to plan the event with GOP lawmakers. But it all seems, frankly, pretty vague and unverified.

Whatever the truth of this one episode, what all this confirms once again is that we are going to need an extremely thorough reckoning of this extraordinary event and all that led up to it. And it remains possible that this story is much bigger than we know.

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