Certain members of Congress may be getting a little nervous today as the news was revealed that the FBI has gained access to the phone records of legislators comingled with those of the rioters that they have identified as taking part in the violent storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th.
Speaking with The Intercept, a “recently retired senior FBI official” told the publication that the agency is “searching cell towers and phones pinging off cell sites in the area to determine visitors to the Capitol.”
“The data is also being used to map links between suspects, which include members of Congress, they also said. (Capitol Police are reportedly investigating whether lawmakers helped rioters gain access to the Capitol as several Democrats have alleged they did, though Republican officials deny this),” the Intercept article states.
“The Justice Department has publicly said that its task force includes senior public corruption officials. That involvement “indicates a focus on public officials, i.e. Capitol Police and members of Congress,” the retired FBI official told the publication.
With several representatives in Congress, including gun-toting, right-wing extremist Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO), being accused of meeting with people involved in organizing the “Stop the Steal” rally — an event that devolved into the march on and invasion of the Capitol in the days ahead of the insurrection — tensions between the FBI and legislators are rising.
“In the House, it’s often become a partisan fight historically when someone’s under investigation, and the other party says you should disclose everything, and the party that wants to protect it says, ‘No, no, there’s institutional concerns here, we can’t let the FBI come in and roughshod over everything,’” Congressional law expert Michael Stern told The Intercept.
While the members of Congress may object to handing over their mobile phone data to the FBI, telecom carriers and social media providers have been cooperating directly with the agency.
“In the hours and days after the Capitol riot, the FBI relied in some cases on emergency orders that do not require court authorization in order to quickly secure actual communications from people who were identified at the crime scene. Investigators have also relied on data ‘dumps’ from cellphone towers in the area to provide a map of who was there, allowing them to trace call records — but not content — from the phones,” The Intercept writes.
“Federal authorities have used the emergency orders in combination with signed court orders under the so-called pen/trap exception to the Stored Communications Act to try to determine who was present at the time that the Capitol was breached, the source said. In some cases, the Justice Department has used these and other “hybrid” court orders to collect actual content from cellphones, like text messages and other communications, in building cases against the rioters.”
“The collection effort has been met with little resistance from telecom providers asked to turn over voluminous data on the activity that day. ‘No one wants to be on the wrong side of the insurrection,’ a source involved in the collection effort said. ‘This is now the scene of the crime,’” the report continues.
Suffice it to say that if any members of Congress did have any advance communications with the planners of the insurrection attempt, it’s likely that their interactions can be detected and confirmed by the data now in the FBI’s possession.
Stay tuned to see what happens as the investigation continues in the weeks ahead.
Original reporting by Ken Klippenstein and Eric Lichtblau at The Intercept.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.