The Washington Times propagated claims that the Capitol Police were ordered not to arrest anti-Iraq war protesters who reportedly spray-painted graffiti on the Capitol steps, and that the order came from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but it has yet to report the Capitol Police chief's statement flatly refuting the allegations against the Capitol Police and Pelosi.
In its coverage of an incident from the January 27 anti-Iraq war protest on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in which a group of protesters reportedly spray-painted graffiti on the steps of the Capitol, The Washington Times has propagated claims that the United States Capitol Police were ordered not to arrest protesters on the Capitol steps, and that the order came from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). However, Capitol Police chief Phillip D. Morse Sr. has since refuted that claim, noting in an official statement released January 31 that no order was given not to arrest protesters, that the Capitol Police did not see the vandalism take place, that they would have arrested anyone they saw spray-painting, and that all decisions were made "without consultation or influence by any Member of Congress." The Times has yet to report the Capitol Police chief's statement flatly refuting all allegations against the Capitol Police and Pelosi.
The Hill, which first reported the allegation that the Capitol Police were ordered not to arrest protesters on the Capitol steps, noted Morse's statement on February 1.
A January 28 Hill article by Jackie Kucinich reported that "[a]nti-war protesters were allowed to spray paint on part of the west front steps of the United States Capitol building after police were ordered to break their security line by their leadership." The article cited two anonymous sources who allegedly witnessed the incident, but the article offered no indication as to what relationship the sources had to the protest or the Capitol Police.
Citing The Hill's January 28 article, the conservative Family Research Council issued a January 29 "Alert" suggesting that Pelosi may have had a role in the Capitol Police's alleged order not to confront the protesters:
For any other group, such acts would mean immediate arrest. This time, the Capitol police's hands were tied because they were ordered to stand down by their Chief of Police, who answers to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). To add insult to injury, public employees had to come in on their day off, at taxpayer's expense, to clean up the mess the protestors left behind.
According to the news reports the rank and file police officers were "livid" that they were ordered not to arrest anyone. Since the Capitol police answer to Speaker Pelosi, the question arises, did the Chief of Police give the "no arrest" order or did it come from someone else? Whoever is responsible for the order needs to explain why the physical destruction of taxpayer property is acceptable.
A January 30 Washington Times editorial also cited the January 28 Hill article, claiming that "the Capitol Police were ordered by superior officers to break a security line against a mob that subsequently vandalized the west-front steps with spray-painted graffiti and drawings of 'anarchy' symbols." However, the editorial noted that "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi couldn't have been much involved in this particular incident: She was out of the country Saturday en route to Afghanistan to meet President Hamid Karzai."
A January 31 Washington Times article reported that Morse met with Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) and "denied that he ordered officers not to arrest war protesters who painted slogans on the sidewalk near the Capitol. However, even though the Times' own editorial page had discounted the possibility of Pelosi's involvement, the January 31 article treated the matter as an unresolved question:
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a department spokeswoman, said a band of protesters splintered from the tens of thousands on the Mall, mixed with visitors exiting the Capitol and in the confusion spray-painted the sidewalk.
However, some officers said the order for "hands off" protesters came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
"The word going around is that [the order] came from Pelosi's office," an officer told The Washington Times. "The order was not to interfere with the protesters."
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker, who was in Afghanistan on Saturday, had not communicated with police about the demonstration. "No one from our office had any contact with police about response to [protesters]," he said.
He suggested conservative groups were spreading the story about Mrs. Pelosi's involvement.
Capitol Police officials could not verify whether any orders originated from the speaker's office.
"There are a lot of rumors going around, and I can't confirm that," Sgt. Schneider said. "There was a set of decisions that were made at the time, based on the circumstances."
On January 31, Morse issued his official statement in order to "set the record straight." It read, in part:
After reading several press accounts of the events surrounding the demonstration on January 27, 2007, I feel that it is important to set the record straight. During the course of the peaceful anti-war demonstration that attracted tens of thousands of protesters who marched around the Capitol in an exercise of their First Amendment rights, we were confronted with a splinter group that was seeking a confrontation with the police. Law enforcement agencies, including the USCP, are familiar with this group and we know their tactics.
The intended goal of this splinter group was to breach into restricted areas, climb the steps, and rush the doors of the Capitol Building. We were not going to let them achieve their goal. In order to achieve our goal of protecting the Capitol without injury to officers, demonstrators, or innocent bystanders, I determined the best course of action was to stand firm in the face of provocation. Officers were continuously redeployed to points close to the Capitol to ensure unity of command and a strong, agile police presence.
Our officers did an outstanding job. We held our lines; no one entered into secure areas; and no one climbed the steps of the Capitol or even got close to any of the doors or windows. At the end of the day, the splinter group was only allowed to be in areas that are otherwise open to the public at anytime of the day or night. Our efforts to protect the Capitol and ensure security were successful.
Some members of this group did covertly mark the pavement on the Lower West Terrace during their confrontation with us. Had this been observed, I would have directed arrests to be made. However, the size and continual movement of the crowd provided concealment and made detection of their actions impossible. Once the crowd dispersed, I was appalled and disgusted that any individual, whatever their cause, would deface the grounds of the Capitol. Fortunately, due to the notable efforts of the staff of the Architect of the Capitol, their signs of disrespect were quickly washed away.
Those are the facts. It is my duty to make decisions during such events, quickly determine the best course of action, and give direction to our officers based on the totality of the circumstances. All decisions were mine as Chief of Police and I made them without consultation or influence by any Member of Congress, or Congressional Leadership. I stand by the decisions I made and I take full responsibility for them.
Despite Morse's explicit assertion that he made decisions with no "consultation or influence" by Pelosi's office, the Times has yet to update its report from January 31 that "Capitol Police officials could not verify whether any orders originated from the speaker's office." Capitol Police officials have verified that no orders came from the speaker's office, and the Times has yet to note that.
A February 1 Hill article noted Morse's statement, reporting that "U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse yesterday said police officers never were given orders to refrain from arresting anti-war protesters who vandalized a Capitol terrace over the weekend." The article further noted that Morse's statement "contradicts witnesses' accounts, confirmed yesterday, that commanders were at the scene and police were told not to make any arrests." The Hill once again gave no indication as to the identity of its "sources," reporting simply: "Sources yesterday reconfirmed police were told to bring the line in front of the Capitol building. They also said protesters were allowed to break the police line and approach the Capitol building."