4 Takeaways From Second House Hearing on Trump Assassination Attempt

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, R-N.C., expected to get answers Tuesday from top Biden administration officials about security failures before the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump. 

Those officials didn’t show up. 

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle resigned earlier in the day. But Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray didn’t give a reason for not appearing at the House hearing. 

“We also expect to hear answers to questions about the shooter’s motivation and what the FBI has found in its investigation, including information collected from the shooter’s various devices,” Green said. “Unfortunately and unacceptably, [Mayorkas and Wray] have refused to appear before the committee here today.”

Instead, Col. Christopher L. Paris, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, answered most of the committee’s questions. 

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, also spoke to the committee. 

Here are takeaways from the second congressional hearing investigating the Trump assassination attempt, held 10 days after the July 13 shooting at a campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, when the gunman’s bullets grazed Trump’s right ear, killed one attendee, and wounded two others. 

1. Dismissing ‘Sloped Roof’ Excuse

Paris, head of the Pennsylvania State Police, dismissed the notion that the rooftop used by 20-year-old shooter Thomas Matthew Crooks had a dangerous slope and was too unsafe for Secret Service agents to secure. 

In an interview with ABC News before her resignation, Cheatle said: “That building in particular has a sloped roof at its highest point. And so, you know, there’s a safety factor that would be considered there, that we wouldn’t want to put somebody up on a sloped roof.”

Green asked: “The slope of the roof, would that have prevented a sniper from being up there?”

Paris replied: “I don’t believe so, sir.”

Later in the hearing, Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., brought up the question about the roof. 

“You didn’t go on the roof, but you viewed the roof. Is that correct?” Guest asked. 

“Yes,” Paris replied. 

“The Secret Service director prior to her resignation said she did not put anybody on the roof because it had a sloped roof that would have created a safety concern,” Guest said. 

He noted that his colleague, Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., is 70 years old and yet climbed the roof during a visit to the shooting site Monday. 

“Do you agree with the assessment of the former Secret Service director that the roof was so sloped that it created safety concerns?” Guest asked. 

Paris again said, “I can’t agree with that assessment, sir.” 

2. Plea to ‘Reconsider’ Bill Denying Protection to Trump

Green asked the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to withdraw his bill pulling Secret Service protection from Trump should the former president be sentenced to prison. 

 “I have to urge the ranking member to reconsider his legislation that was clearly intended to strip Secret Service protection from President Trump,” Green said during opening remarks. 

“While I understand the legislation would not have applied in this instance, it was clear to everyone that it was directed toward the former president,” the committee chairman added. “We all introduce messaging bills. This one should be withdrawn.”

But later in the hearing, Thompson defended his legislation, saying that “the bill doesn’t mention former President Trump.”

In April, after Trump had been indicted in four separate criminal cases but before he was convicted of 34 felonies in the “hush money” trial in New York, Thompson introduced a bill that he called the Denying Infinite Security and Government Resources Allocated toward Convicted and Extremely Dishonorable Former Protectees Act, which the Mississippi Democrat also dubbed  the DISGRACED Former Protectees Act.  

If passed and designed into law by President Joe Biden, the legislation would terminate Secret Service protection for someone who has been sentenced to prison following conviction for a federal or state felony. 

“You have to be a convicted felon and sentenced. At the time the bill was filed, nobody who was a protectee was a convicted felon,” Thompson said during the hearing. “Those who are lawyers here know that once you are a convicted felon and sentenced, you are remanded to the custody of that particular law enforcement agency for custody. I think it is an anomaly to say the Secret Service would have to protect a felon in jail, a convicted felon.”

That’s not the point, Green retorted, noting that financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died in prison. 

“Prison isn’t necessarily a safer place,” Green said. “You can ask Mr. Epstein’s family about that. So, to suggest [Trump would] have the security necessary in a prison environment is not an accurate statement.”

Green added: “It’s more about what we’re doing and what we’re saying at certain times that generates the attitude in our society.”

3. ‘Met or Exceeded All of Our Expectations’

Rep. Anthony D’Espostio, R-N.Y., asked Paris to assess local law enforcement at the Trump rally July 13, as opposed to the Secret Service.

“What do you say to those that are saying local law enforcement failed to provide adequate security at this rally?” D’Espostio asked. 

“It’s my belief as I sit here, based on all the information that I have, that we met or exceeded all of our expectations for that event,” Paris replied. “Am I saying the event was a success? Obviously, it was not. Our hearts go out to those affected.”

Yoes, national head of the Fraternal Order of Police, stressed the importance of local law enforcement to back up federal law enforcement. 

“I would echo the fact that local law enforcement plays a huge role and must,” Yoes said. “I don’t think the federal agencies have the ability to have this event without a coordinated effort with local law enforcement.”

Earlier in the hearing, Paris explained the role of the Pennsylvania State Police the day of the assassination attempt was to “supply the Secret Service with personnel and assets that they requested.”

This involved 32 state police officers with two main responsibilities, a motorcade operation for the Secret Service’s  transportation of Trump and manning and staffing security posts inside the perimeter.

“Very early after the shooting, I had a conversation with the FBI, the responsible investigating agency of the assassination of a former president under federal law,” Paris said. 

He said Pennsylvania State Police are “currently conducting a criminal investigation parallel to and in concert with the FBI to identify any and all parties criminally culpable under Pennsylvania state law for the homicide and for the attempted homicides.”

4. Nagging Questions on Timeline

Later in the hearing, Gimenez asked about the timeline after law enforcement had flagged the shooter as a suspicious person on the grounds of the rally. 

“From my understanding of the timeline, it’s about 20 minutes before the president came out; was that information relayed to the Secret Service?” the Florida Republican asked. 

“I believe that it was,” Paris said. 

“Was that relayed to the Secret Service, the team that surrounds the president himself?” Gimenez specified. 

“I can’t answer that,” Paris said. 

“If it wasn’t, that’s another big mess-up,” the congressman said. 

Gimenez followed up by asking and answering a rhetorical question: “Who developed a plan to protect the outside of the perimeter? There’s only one agency, that’s the United States Secret Service.”

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Giving a Late Lawmaker’s Commitment to Legislative Transparency the Belated Credit It’s Due

Retired Sen. James Inhofe passed away recently and, in addition to the glowing tributes from others, I wanted to share a personal anecdote about how the Oklahoma Republican made a difference in an unexpected way.

Here’s the backstory. Civics 101 tells us that bills and resolutions introduced by a House member or senator are first sent to a legislative committee, and then possibly to a subcommittee. The House or Senate may consider the measure after it emerges from that process and the committee sends it to the full chamber. Sounds simple enough.

But what if a member doesn’t like a resolution that lands in a committee where he serves, knows the House will pass it if it has the chance, and, therefore, decides to kill it by preventing it from ever getting out of the committee? The House, after all, can’t pass a resolution it cannot vote on.

For the past century or so, the House has had a rule allowing a majority of House members to “discharge” a measure from a committee that has not released it by signing a discharge petition.

This happens only rarely. Since 1980, an average of just 13 discharge petitions have been introduced each year and only a fraction of those succeed in getting at least 218 signatures, the minimum number needed in the 435-member House.

In the past, the discharge petition process was secret. The names of House members signing a particular discharge petition were not made public until the total reached the threshold of 218 and the list was published in the Congressional Record.

That allowed a member to, say, receive praise for co-sponsoring a resolution he knew was stuck in a committee while refusing to take the step of signing a discharge petition that could actually help get the measure passed.

Inhofe, who died July 9 at the age of 89, changed that.

On March 18, 1993, Inhofe—then a member of the House—introduced House Resolution 134 to change House rules to require public disclosure of discharge petition signatures from the time the petition was filed.

He knew, however, that then-Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif.), the second-most senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed that rules change and would block the resolution from ever reaching the House floor.

Inhofe, therefore, introduced a discharge petition for his discharge petition resolution on May 27, 1993, and it reached the requisite 218 signatures on Sept. 8. Less than three weeks later, the House adopted this reform by a vote of 383-40. (Edwards voted no.)

But I digress. In October 1991, the Justice Department secured the conviction of Stephen Knox for knowingly receiving and possessing child pornography. Knox challenged his conviction, arguing that the videos he received were not child pornography because the young girls depicted were at least partially clothed.

That was an important consideration because the porn industry responds quickly to how courts interpret and apply these statutes. The Justice Department defended the conviction, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed it on Oct. 15, 1992, holding that such an exhibition does not always require nudity.

Bill Clinton was elected president less than three weeks later. On June 7, 1993, the day Clinton appointed Drew Days to be solicitor general, the Supreme Court agreed to consider Knox’s appeal. To everyone’s surprise, Days filed a brief in September reversing the Justice Department’s position and agreeing with Knox that the child pornography statute should be construed narrowly.

Within weeks, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., joined by 57 co-sponsors, introduced House Resolution 281 denouncing the about-face and asserting the “sense of the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice repudiate its reinterpretation of federal child pornography laws, defend the conviction won in the lower courts in the Knox case, and vigorously prosecute sexual exploitation of children.”

The Smith resolution was sent to the House Judiciary Committee.

You’d think that a resolution like this one, calling for more vigorous prosecution of child pornography, would breeze through Congress. On Nov. 4, 1993, the Senate voted 100-0 for an amendment to a crime bill offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley , R-Iowa, denouncing the Justice Department’s flip-flop in the Knox case.

But for some reason, while Smith’s resolution was adding co-sponsors by the day, it sat languishing in the Judiciary Committee.

When Smith filed a discharge petition for Resolution 281 on Feb. 9, 1994, it already had 251 co-sponsors, far more than the number needed to pass, but dozens of these members had apparently not signed the discharge petition to help make that happen.

It turns out that Edwards—who had opposed making the discharge petition process more transparent—also opposed Smith’s child pornography resolution.

The organization for which I worked at the time had established a television network with programming, including a daily political show that I hosted, available by satellite and cable in a growing number of markets.

Thanks to Inhofe, the names of the Resolution 281 co-sponsors who had not signed its discharge petition were now in the public record. I called each of those offices (as a courtesy, of course) to tell them that this would be a topic on an upcoming show and their names would appear on television screens across America.

Reactions varied—some accompanied by language too impolite to repeat here—but dozens of members quickly signed that discharge petition.

Smith offered Resolution 281, which by then had 265 co-sponsors, as an amendment to a major crime bill on April 20, 1994, and the House voted 425-3 to include it. (You guessed it, Edwards voted no).

When Clinton signed that crime bill into law on Sept. 13, 1994, it included the Smith amendment, asserting that the Justice Department’s position in the Knox case “did not accurately reflect the intent of Congress.”

Inhofe’s determination that more sunshine was needed on this aspect of the House’s legislative activities made it possible for Americans to participate more effectively in the political process; in this case, on an issue of great importance.

What might have seemed in the beginning like an inside-congressional-baseball tweak to House rules turned out, thanks to Inhofe, opening the window just a bit so that House members could not say one thing in public and do the exact opposite behind closed doors—and so that the House might be a little more responsive to the American people.

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