(The Hill) – A growing number of House lawmakers are calling for a Congressional investigation into the interagency communications debacle that led to the emergency evacuation of the US Capitol complex on Wednesday night.
Lawmakers are stunned that an Army paratrooper stunt at the Washington Nationals ballpark — a preplanned event that allowed a small, twin-engine plane to enter the severely restricted airspace near Capitol Hill — could unleash so much chaos that even Washington law enforcement is under intense pressure to improve security protocols after last year’s deadly attack on the Capitol.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) knew the Army plane would be circling Nationals Park, about a mile south of the Capitol, the agency has not notified U.S. Capitol Police, according to law enforcement and lawmakers. The communications failure prompted the USCP to issue a surprise evacuation order, warning that the unidentified plane “poses a likely threat to the Capitol Complex.”
The order was quickly canceled, and the FAA says it is investigating the mishap. But a number of lawmakers believe Congress deserves an investigation.
“I think we definitely need to get to the bottom of what happened,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said by phone Thursday.
“It’s amazing … that not everyone has been fully notified,” he added. “Difficult to imagine.”
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a former Army Ranger who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was not on Capitol Hill during Wednesday’s evacuation. But he said it was affecting his staff and was particularly traumatizing for those who witnessed the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“It’s triggering for so many people who were here that day,” he said. “So we have to look at that, we have to find out what went wrong and there has to be some accountability because the ball was clearly dropped.”
The small plane carrying the Army’s paratrooper unit, known as the Golden Knights, took off Wednesday night from Joint Base Andrews, a massive facility just outside Washington’s Beltway in Maryland, and flew to Nationals Park to attend Military Appreciation Night. Capitol Police said that while they are routinely notified of “hundreds of authorized flights in restricted airspace” each week, the plane carrying the Golden Knights was not among them.
“We do not take the decision to evacuate the campus lightly,” the department said in a statement Thursday. “It is extremely unusual not to be made aware of a flight in advance.”
Capitol Police issued their evacuation order just after 6:30 p.m., rescinding it less than 20 minutes later after determining there was no threat.
The fear was short-lived, but forced countless Capitol Hill employees to flee the complex. And it infuriated spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who wasted no time in issuing a statement condemning the incident as “outrageous and inexcusable.”
“The unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence has been particularly damaging to members, staff and institutional staff who are still dealing with the trauma of the January 6 attack on their workplace,” she said.
The U.S. Army Recruitment Command issued a statement Thursday saying the Golden Knights followed all proper protocols to fly into the restricted airspace around the Capitol.
“We have confirmed that the parachute team has submitted all appropriate and required Federal Aviation Administration documentation and received FAA approval prior to operating in National Capitol Region airspace,” spokeswoman Kelli LeGaspi said.
In a statement of its own, the FAA appeared to acknowledge that the error came from its offices.
“We know our actions affect others, particularly in our nation’s capital region, and we need to communicate early and frequently with our law enforcement partners,” the agency said, promising “a thorough and expeditious review” of Wednesday’s events.
Whether a congressional probe will follow the agency’s probe remains unclear. A Pelosi official said the FAA’s internal review is the “first step.” And Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the chair of the Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee, said that while he directed committee staff to seek information from the FAA, he has yet to hear anything directly from the agency.
“I expect to see the results of the agency’s investigation soon,” Larsen said in an email.
While such incidents are highly unusual, this isn’t the first time the Capitol has been evacuated under the false threat of an airstrike. In 2004, Pentagon officials came close to using fighter jets to shoot down an unidentified plane flying over restricted airspace in Washington. The twin-engine aircraft carried Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) to the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
Hoyer, who was in the Capitol rotunda when the evacuation order came, said it “created a real panic.”
“It was finally resolved before everyone left the Capitol. But it was an incident that caused a lot of disruption,” he said. “One would think that the people who conducted this effort would know that if a small plane flies anywhere near the Capitol dome, everyone needs a warning.”
In another strange incident in 2015, a Florida mailman protesting campaign finance laws piloted a gyrocopter down the National Mall and landed it on the Capitol grounds. He was arrested without incident and sentenced to four months in prison.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who said she landed in Washington Wednesday night shortly after the Capitol evacuation ended, praised the Capitol Police officers who were leading the process.
“The officers did their job, they were exhausted when I got there,” she said.
She was quick to add that the incident also made it clear that communication between the country’s security agencies needed to be improved.
“We’d better introduce a rigorous chain of accountability,” Kaptur said. “I think that’s what it taught us.”
https://www.cbs17.com/news/stunned-lawmakers-want-investigation-after-air-stunt-prompts-capitol-evacuation/ Stunned lawmakers are calling for an investigation after an aerial stunt led to the Capitol’s evacuation