The Latest: Azar condemns Capitol riot in resignation letter
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is condemning the assault on the U.S. Capitol in his formal letter of resignation.
Azar says he will resign at noon on Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.
Azar wrote in his letter to President Donald Trump, dated Jan. 12: “The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power that the United States of America first brought to the world.”
He added: “I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20.”
The two-page letter recited administration accomplishments that Azar said “the actions and rhetoric following the election ... threaten to tarnish.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IMPEACHMENT AND THE FALLOUT FROM THE JAN. 6 RIOTING AT THE CAPITOL:
Federal prosecutors who initially said there was “strong evidence” the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week aimed to “capture and assassinate elected officials” backed away from the allegation after the head of the investigation cautioned Friday that the probe is still in its early stages and there was no “direct evidence” of such intentions.
— Feds back away from claim of assassination plot at Capitol
— Federal watchdogs open probe of response to Capitol riot
— Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military and cops
— Trump trial pending, McConnell calls it ‘vote of conscience’
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:
The Transportation Security Administration says some people could face more thorough security checks or be barred from boarding a plane as part of additional security around President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.
The TSA said in a statement Friday that it’s working with law enforcement agencies to conduct a risk assessment of “hundreds” of people. It did not say what criteria is being used to determine who has been selected.
It comes more than a week after a violent mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to stop Congress from confirming Biden’s Electoral College victory. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.
Trump had falsely said for weeks that the election was stolen from him. He was impeached earlier this week on a charge of incitement of an insurrection.
TSA is also providing officers to help the Secret Service screen people along the parade route and attending Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.
The agency, which includes air marshals, also plans to boost security at airports around the country.
President-elect Joe Biden says even a scaled-down inauguration with thousands of troops and law enforcement authorities will give the world “a clear sign that America is coming back.”
Biden said Friday at a virtual reception for inauguration donors that he has “complete confidence” in law enforcement’s ability to ensure “dignity, peace and security for this event.”
He says his own team is working closely with law enforcement.
Alluding to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric inciting the insurrection at the Capitol last week, Biden said, “What this president has done is sort of a stain on America.”
Biden will be sworn in at noon Wednesday, two weeks after a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to stop Congress from affirming Biden’s election victory. Five people died, and Trump was impeached again.
An Ohio man who posted videos from the U.S. Capitol riots has been arrested on federal charges of making interstate threats and threatening a witness.
In one video, 40-year-old Justin Stoll, of Wilmington, declared: “D.C.’s a war zone!...You ain’t got enough cops, baby! We are at war at the Capitol…. We have taken the Capitol. This is our country.”
The federal complaint said that when one YouTube viewer said he or she had saved his video, Stoll warned that if the viewer took action to “ever jeopardize me, from being with my family,” then the person would meet his or her maker, and that he would be the one to “arrange the meeting.”
Stoll appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Cincinnati, who released him under restrictions including that he remain in southern Ohio with electronic monitoring, stay off social media, stay away from firearms, obtain mental counseling and not contact potential witnesses or victims.
No other details, including his attorney’s name, were available immediately. There was no answer Friday at a phone number listed to his name.
The U.S. attorney’s office says interstate communication of a threat can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, while tampering with a witness through intimidation carries a potential 20-year maximum sentence.
The U.S. attorney’s office says an anti-Trump Florida man has been charged with trying to organize an armed response to pro-Trump protesters expected at the state Capitol on Sunday.
An affidavit from an FBI agent says Daniel Baker, of Tallahassee, was using social media to recruit people in a plot to encircle protesters and trap them in the Capitol.
The court document describes threats of violence and a prediction of civil war. Baker is described as anti-Trump, anti-government, anti-white supremacist and anti-police.
He is charged with transmission in interstate commerce of a communication containing a threat to kidnap or to injure. He was in custody Friday, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he has an attorney.
U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe said: “Extremists intent on violence from either end of the political and social spectrums must be stopped, and they will be stopped.”
Baker was kicked out of the Army in 2007 after going AWOL before being deployed to Iraq. The affidavit said Baker was then homeless and largely unemployed for the following nine years.
“REMEMBER THAT THE COPS WONT PROTECT US BECAUSE THE COPS AND KLAN GO HAND IN HAND!” Baker wrote on a Facebook event page he created, according to the affidavit. “If you are afraid to die fighting the enemy, then stay in bed and live. Call all of your friends and Rise Up!”
Vice President Mike Pence has called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to offer his congratulations and assistance with her transition into office.
That’s according to two people who weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pence’s call comes less than a week before President-elect Joe Biden and Harris are set to take office. Inauguration Day is this coming Wednesday.
The call is the first contact between elected officials from the outgoing and incoming administrations. President Donald Trump hasn’t reached out to Biden and has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s win.
Trump won’t attend the inauguration. Pence will be there.
— By AP writers Jill Colvin and Alexandra Jaffe
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there may be a need to prosecute members of Congress if any are found to have assisted the pro-Trump rioters in last week’s attack on the Capitol.
The California Democrat says that assault highlighted the need for the U.S. to beware of domestic threats. She says, “We’ve really lost our innocence in this.” Pelosi tells reporters that members of Congress need to be able to trust each other.
Her words underscore some Democrats’ suggestions that some GOP lawmakers helped feed President Donald Trump’s supporters’ belief in Trump’s false charges that his presidential election loss was due to vote fraud.
They also highlight the extraordinary distrust and anger that’s grown in Congress since the attack, which led to this week’s House impeachment of Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré is being tapped to lead a security review of the U.S. Capitol in the wake of last week’s deadly insurrection.
Pelosi said during a news conference Friday that the whole Capitol complex must be subjected “to scrutiny in light of what happened” and the fact that President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration will be held there next week.
Honoré is perhaps best known for overseeing humanitarian aid efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.
Pelosi says Honoré will conduct an immediate review of security and inter-agency interaction and Capitol “command and control.”
The National Park Service has closed Washington’s National Mall to the general public as part of greatly intensified security ahead of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration.
The closure started Friday morning. It will remain in force at least through Thursday, the day after Biden’s inauguration, the National Park Service said in a statement.
The Secret Service asked for the closing. Thousands of National Guard troops are deployed in the nation’s capital as part of extraordinary security, after supporters of President Donald Trump overran the Capitol building Jan. 6 as lawmakers were certifying results in Biden’s election victory over Trump.
The park service will still allow inauguration activities and permitted free-speech events on the National Mall despite the closure, it said.
The park service said it would allow only small demonstrations for permit holders and would escort any protesters and hold them in designated areas, along with other safety measures.
National Park Service and Interior Department spokespeople did not immediately respond when asked if any protest permits had been granted or applied for.
Defense Department officials are scrambling to call governors and asking whether they have any more National Guard troops they can send to Washington to help protect the Capitol and the city.
A defense official familiar with the discussions says law enforcement leaders and other authorities have now determined that they’ll need about 25,000 National Guard troops. And they say that number could still grow.
As of Friday morning, officials had commitments from states for close to 22,000 members of the Guard. That’s according to the official, who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In recent days, defense and military leaders have said they understand that states are also facing their own looming protests and the first priority of the governors is to protect their own capitals.
The number of Guard officials are seeking to help protect the District of Columbia in the run-up to Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden has increased almost daily.
Defense and law enforcement authorities have been revising the numbers as they go through rehearsals and other drills to determine how many and where they need the Guard reinforcements to help lock down Washington.
— AP writer Lolita C. Baldor
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog says it will investigate how the department and its agencies prepared for and responded to last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol.
The investigation by the inspector general’s office will examine whether information was appropriately shared by the Justice Department to other law enforcement agencies about the potential for violence.
The inspector general said it “also will assess whether there are any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures” that hampered preparation and response to the events.
The review is one of multiple ones launched by inspectors general, including at the departments of Homeland Security and Defense and at the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Police.
The initiation of the review signals concern among the watchdogs that the preparations for, and response to, the breach of the Capitol by loyalists of President Donald Trump was lacking.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.