WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle slipped a pair of scissors into his pocket as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
He didn’t tell his staff members because he didn’t want to alarm them — but also didn’t realize his three staffers made the same call. They, too, had each grabbed a pair of scissors as a last line of defense.
With a table, couch and desk barricading the office door, the Pennsylvania Democrat and his staff huddled in the darkness, listening to the commotion in the hallway.
They were unsure if they were hearing the sounds of law enforcement arriving or of violent pro-Trump supporters who were encouraged by the president to descend on the Capitol as lawmakers certified Joe Biden as the presidential winner on Jan. 6.
“We didn’t know if it was the good guys or the bad guys,” Boyle recalled in an interview on Friday with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
They were among the members of Congress, aides, journalists, Capitol Police officers and even the vice president of the United States inside the Capitol complex as the mob attacked. The mayhem left five dead and more than 50 law enforcement officers injured. The House impeached the president for a second time on Wednesday, a week after the insurrection. Multiple investigations continue.
A quick decision
As they sat in darkness, Boyle had already made the difficult decision to return to his personal office, rather than stay in a secure room where Capitol Police were guarding more than 300 lawmakers and staff.
Dozens of Republicans in the room had refused to put on masks and he didn’t want to risk his staff being exposed to the coronavirus.
Police warned him that if he left they would not be able to protect him or his staff. But looking at the packed room and maskless Republicans, Boyle and his aides took their chances. Several Democrats who were in that room have since tested positive for COVID-19, blaming their GOP colleagues for refusing to wear masks.
Boyle and his aides finally emerged from the office shaken but safe. A day later, Boyle introduced a resolution directing the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation against the president after he leaves office on charges that he incited the mob.
In an interview with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Boyle talked about the day the Capitol was attacked and his push to see criminal charges lodged against the president. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: How are you and your staff holding up?
I think we’re OK. I don’t think it really, fully sunk in until a few days afterward, just everything we had been through. I know I had so much adrenaline in me that I couldn’t sleep for a few nights after the incident. It’s a pretty awful thing to have gone through, but in the moment you don’t really process the harm, you just focus on what is happening.
Q: Were you surprised the Capitol was attacked?
The night before I met with my staff and we planned to get to the Capitol early to avoid a possible confrontation with Trump supporters, but I did not think a crowd of hundreds or thousands would storm the Capitol, breaching it and getting onto the House floor. I never thought that was possible. I thought we had much greater security than obviously we had.
Q: Why do you want to go forward with this resolution?
I strongly believe that Donald Trump has committed numerous crimes. There’s one specifically, it’s 2384 in the U.S. Code and that is ‘seditious conspiracy.’ It carries with it a maximum sentence of 20 years. If you read that statue it is pretty clear, just from the publicly available evidence, that he is guilty of that.
Of course, there needs to be a proper investigation. I have no doubt that it will lead to Trump’s indictment, arrest and prosecution.
I would also point out that another reason why the criminal investigation is needed and that’s because there have been a lot of focus on everything Trump did to bring this group of rioters to the Capitol to incite them, to implore them to storm the Capitol, but there hasn’t been as much focus on what Trump did and did not do in the hours of Wednesday afternoon as this was unfolding.
When a crowd of hundreds if not thousands had gotten into the Capitol, screaming “Hang Mike Pence,” looking for blood, why was the National Guard not sent in immediately? Why did it take four hours for that to be approved by the Pentagon? Why did the president of the United States not do anything when I know that congressional leaders of both parties were reaching out asking for help?
So, I think the investigation into what exactly transpired in those hours is also critical.
Q: Are there any lawmakers who are in support of this resolution?
I spoke about it on our Democratic caucus zoom call a few days ago and immediately got texts of support from colleagues. I’m going to be spending the next week going to them and asking them to co-sponsor it. The immediate focus this week was obviously on impeachment and that’s why I dropped my resolution the day after impeachment.
Just because we’re done with impeachment, and now the Senate will take it up, I think it would be a tragic mistake if we let this matter drop. In my view, the single most important thing that can happen is the criminal investigation, which I believe will lead to the prosecution of Donald J. Trump for the crimes he has committed.
Q: Have you heard from top Democratic leadership and have they said whether or not they support the resolution?
Top leadership was on the zoom call when I pushed for my view that a criminal investigation must happen. I have not heard feedback from them yet, but I have a great relationship with our Democratic leaders, especially the speaker, and I will bring it up with her.
In my view this is one of the most important things that can happen, not just for this, but for the future so that never again a president of the United States launches an attack on another branch of government.
Q: Looking back at what happened on Jan. 6, this is not the first time a group of supporters of the president or baseless conspiracy groups have incited violence. There was Charlottesville. More recently, there was a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. So my question is, is there some consensus in Congress that a large portion of Americans have been radicalized and do pose a threat and what should Congress do about it?
That is exactly right. Sadly, there is no question that a certain percentage of Americans have been completely radicalized by this president, by some who profit off the radicalization of others, and using various methods via social media. And it is a problem that is going to unfortunately be with us beyond Jan. 20 and even beyond Donald Trump.
I think it’s something that Congress should address, but also we as a society need to address. One important element that we’ve been talking around the edges of dealing with for years now, and it’s finally coming to a head, is the regulation of social media.
Should there be some sort of regulatory body, and how do we do that in light of the fact that we are a country with a very strong First Amendment right? Of course we protect free speech, but we still say you can’t scream fire in a movie theater. So, these sorts of things we really need to address before the situation gets worse.