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September 29, 2014
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t like the lay of the land during a Monday stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“On my visit to the White House perimeter this morning, I saw the ugly barriers that keep people a few feet from the fence, with signs affixed to the barriers that said ‘Police Line, Do Not Cross,’” the D.C. Democrat said in a statement released on the eve of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Secret Service protocol.
Since Omar J. Gonzalez scaled the north fence on Sept. 19 and ran 70 yards to the unlocked front doors of the White House, the House GOP has been increasingly critical of the agency. New revelations reported by The Washington Post on Sunday, including that it took four days to realize gunfire had struck the White House in 2011, have raised fresh concern. Meanwhile, District officials fear new policies that could be detrimental to D.C. Full story
Three years after his brief stint in the Senate, a federal court case in Chicago has raised questions about Illinois Democrat Roland Burris’ conduct while he was in office.
His name came up during a pre-trial hearing on Sept. 26 in a bizarre case against a businessman accused of illegally lobbying to overturn U.S. sanctions on the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Defense attorneys questioned Burris’ credibility as a witness because of allegations he was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate.
Then-Sen. Burris offered to promote a business to the U.S. military in exchange for a $250,000 a year job when he left office, court documents allege. An FBI informant made the claim in 2012 during grand jury testimony, according to a transcript of the sidebar conversation between the judge and attorneys that was shared by the Chicago Sun-Times. Full story
September 26, 2014
A day after announcing his exit, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. paid lip service to voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia.
Holder, who previously served as a D.C. Superior Court judge and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said the Justice Department would continue fighting “until all Americans have equal access to the ballot box,” during a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
“And when I talk about all who want to be heard in the halls of the federal government, I am including the more than 600,000 taxpayers, who, like me — like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress,” Holder said Friday.
“We pay our taxes, we die in the Army, we have a great representative, and we do not have voting rights,” he continued. “It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities as well as our full rights.”
Holder did not outline any specific actions he would take on behalf of D.C. as he waits for a successor to be confirmed, but the line drew a big round of applause.
During the speech, the nation’s first black attorney general reminisced about his earliest encounter with the CBC. Holder said he attended a caucus dinner with his aunt when he was a young lawyer “during my first days here in Washington, D.C.”
The New York City native moved to the District after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1976. He was assigned to the newly formed Public Integrity Section. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan nominated Holder to become an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Five years later, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., recommended him to the Clinton administration to serve as the District’s top attorney.
Norton was among the Democrats congratulating Holder on six years of “outstanding work,” saying D.C. residents were especially proud of his tenure.
September 25, 2014
A patient isolation chamber suited for the front lines of the fight against Ebola in West Africa arrived Tuesday on the third floor of the Rayburn House Office building.
Congressional aides watched the portable unit, which weighs 35 pounds and has up to 10 hours of battery life, inflate atop a table in the room normally used for subcommittee hearings of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They reached their hands into the eight glove “arms” around the unit, and examined the ports used for medical tubing.
The portable patient isolation chamber is a tool that “really isn’t being deployed right now,” said Zach Hunter, spokesman for Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who worked in conjunction with a fellow Illinois Republican, Sen. Mark S. Kirk, to bring the Romeoville, Ill., company that manufactures the product to Capitol Hill. Full story
September 24, 2014
Despite criticism, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission plans to seek preliminary approval of architect Frank Gehry’s latest design during an Oct. 2 meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission.
The fight surrounding Gehry’s plan led Sen. Jerry Moran to quietly slip his resignation into the Congressional Record last week, leaving the embattled, 12-member panel with one less supporter of architect Gehry’s contentious design. The Kansas Republican’s resignation could have cleared the way for an alternative, but a majority of commissioners rejected that idea.
Moran and six other members of Congress who sit on the commission — including fellow Kansas Republican Pat Roberts — skipped the most recent briefing on the memorial. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., abstained from the most recent round of votes. Full story
Congress escalated its calls for more transparency in law enforcement in the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., suggesting body cameras for police officers might improve public safety.
The District of Columbia government, however, has been looking at the technology for more than a year. Capitol Police have also been keeping tabs on the new technology.
Beginning Oct. 1, approximately 165 officers from the Metropolitan Police Department will be patrolling the District of Columbia outfitted with sleek recording devices that attach to their shoulders, head or chest. The pilot program has a $1 million budget and is expected to last six months. It involves officers from all seven police districts testing five camera models from three different vendors. Full story
September 23, 2014
Emergency legislation legalizing the carry of concealed handguns in the District cleared the D.C. Council unanimously on Tuesday afternoon, setting up a temporary “may-issue” permitting scheme.
Under the legislation, guns are not allowed near Congress. Guns are outlawed within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. They are also banned near the White House in Northwest Washington, in an area bound by Constitution Avenue, H Street and 15th and 17th streets, and on most federal property, including the Capitol grounds. The law puts into place many other requirements and restrictions.
Opponents like Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against the city’s ban on handguns in Palmer v. District of Columbia, argue the law gives the Metropolitan Police Department too much subjective discretion over who will be able to carry a gun. Full story
Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., reinstated Ryan Shucard as his press secretary this week, after the 26-year-old pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition under the terms of a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen, Jr.
D. C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee sentenced Shucard to 30 days in jail on Sept. 17, but suspended the sentence, meaning he would not be locked up. Shucard has been ordered to serve six months unsupervised probation, which means he is not required to report to a probation officer. He was ordered to pay $100 in court costs.
Marino’s chief of staff, Bill Tighe, indicated the congressman had been monitoring the situation carefully and wanted to let the legal process play out instead of acting with haste. He told CQ Roll Call that Monday was Shucard’s first day back at work.
Shucard was initially charged with carrying a pistol outside a home or business — a felony under D.C. law that carries up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Though bringing a gun to Capitol grounds remains, in most circumstances, a violation of federal and D.C. code, the District’s ban on carrying handguns in public was thrown into limbo when a federal judge declared it unconstitutional on July 26.
In the wake of the ruling, Machen proposed the plea agreement. Each charge Shucard pled guilty to carries a maximum penalty of one year of prison and a $1,000 fine.
The bill being considered by the council would allow D.C. residents and people with state-issued gun carry licenses to apply to D.C. police for permits, while placing strict limitations on where guns could be carried. Virginia, where Shucard lives, does not require residents to register handguns.
Shucard has said he mistakenly brought the Smith and Wesson gun, plus 9 rounds of hollow point ammunition, in his bag that Friday morning as he headed to work. Following the arrest — which put the campus community on alert — Shucard was immediately placed on unpaid leave. He told CQ Roll Call he loved his job and hoped to return to the Hill.
According to the Associated Press, Shucard said after the hearing that he was robbed in D.C. earlier this year, which set him on edge, so he took the gun for his protection while house-sitting in Alexandria.
September 22, 2014
District of Columbia officials have grudgingly taken up the task of putting in place a handgun permit system in response to a July 26 federal court ruling that struck down the local ban on carrying pistols outside the home.
Last week, during a southeast Washington memorial ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the deadly Navy Yard shooting, Mayor Vincent Gray lamented the violence that ”happened right within the view of the Capitol Dome,” and called on Congress to come up with a solution.
“We have tough gun laws in the District of Columbia, which probably will have to be relaxed to some extent because of the Palmer case,” Gray said, referring to the decision by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. in the case against the city. Gun control laws, he said, ”are now under attack by Second Amendment advocates who believe in putting the right of gun owners before community safety.” Full story
After an intruder managed to get inside the White House on Sept. 19, members of Congress are seeking answers from Secret Service Director Julia Pierson.
The agency has indicated it is conducting a review following the arrest of Iraq war veteran Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, who officials say climbed the north fence of the complex and bolted into the North Portico with a 3 1/2-inch serrated blade folding knife in his pocket. Technical and physical security, including staffing and threat assessment, will be assessed.
Disturbing new details emerged when Gonzalez appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday. According to federal prosecutors, Gonzalez was keeping 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car, parked blocks from the White House. Also revealed Monday was a July 19 incident in Virginia, when Gonzalez was arrested while carrying a sawed-off shotgun and map of Washington marking the location of the White House. Full story