Days before the violent insurrection at the US Capitol, the then US House Sergeant-at- Arms sent a memo to members of Congress banning tours of buildings on Jan. 6, the day lawmakers gathered inside to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN.
The lockdown was in response to alarm from some Congressional members who were growing concerned about seeing large groups of pro-Trump supporters walking around the Capitol the week around the swearing in of the new Congress leading up to the Jan. 6.
It was a level of traffic that had not taken place since officials tightened access to the building in March of last year to limit spread from the coronavirus pandemic, multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides told CNN.
Tours of the building in the days leading up to the violent insurrection of the Capitol have become a flashpoint in the fallout from last week’s riots, with some Democrats openly accusing some Republican members of aiding the President’s supporters in reconnaissance on the Capitol by providing tours.
No proof has been provided so far, but investigators are looking at the possibility that some members of Congress unwittingly provided tours in the days before the rally to people who later were part of the mob that stormed the Capitol, a US law enforcement official said.
No evidence so far has emerged to show complicity by members of Congress, but prosecutors are examining whether some people may have used tours to familiarize themselves with the Capitol building layout, the official said.
The ban on tours also stemmed from concerns about who Republicans might bring in that day, a senior Democratic aide told CNN.
Prior to the pandemic, the public had wide-ranging access to the Capitol complex, including the tunnels connecting the member office buildings to the Capitol itself.
After, the Sergeant-at- Arms banned all tours of the Capitol grounds at the start of the pandemic, but members of Congress were able to ignore the guidance. Lawmakers or staff led tours have never had to register visitors with Capitol Police, a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of overall protocols told CNN.
Capitol police don’t keep security logs either, two current US Capitol Police officers told CNN.
One police said, “Rules don’t apply to the members. Never have, never will.”
Another officer said, “(Members) can just waive people through. If they do that, we’re advised to notify the Sergeant-at-Arms. We can’t stop them.”
The Jan. 4 letter obtained by CNN went further and banned all tours. In it then-US House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving explicitly wrote, the Capitol and the Capitol Visitor Center “remain closed to all tours, including Member, staff-led and public tours” on January 6.”
CNN was only shown part of the letter because the remainder contained pertinent security information.
Irving stepped down last week after the riots. CNN has reached out to Irving, the Acting House Sergeant at Arms, US Capitol Police, and former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund about why there was a need to ban tours on Jan. 6.
CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Peter Nickeas and Mark Morales contributed reporting to this post.