Politico

Lawmakers reveal — and dispute – FBI conclusion about 2017 baseball field shooting


A congressman who was on the baseball field during the 2017 shooting that nearly killed GOP Whip Steve Scalise says the FBI privately informed lawmakers it ruled the attack a “suicide by cop,” a designation he said downplayed the shooter’s apparently political motivation.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) revealed the previously undisclosed determination during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, upbraiding FBI Director Christopher Wray and prompting several colleagues of both parties to pile on. He said FBI agents privately briefed the baseball team on Nov. 16, 2017 to deliver the controversial determination.

“Much to our shock that day, the FBI concluded that this was a case of the attacker seeking suicide by cop,” Wenstrup said. “Director, you want suicide by cop, you just pull a gun on a cop. It doesn’t take 136 rounds. It takes one bullet. Both the DHS and the (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) published products labeling this attack as a domestic violent extremism event, specifically targeting Republican members of Congress. The FBI did not.”

Wray did not directly address Wenstrup’s criticism, other than to confirm he was not the FBI director at the time — a role held in June 2017 by Andrew McCabe — but said he was grateful to Capitol Police and to Wenstrup, a doctor, who used his skills that day to triage injured lawmakers and others who joined them.

The FBI never publicly disclosed its final conclusions about the June 14, 2017, shooting. In an interim update just a week later, investigators said the gunman had made numerous social media posts supporting left-wing causes and backing candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but the bureau also noted that it found no evidence of threats to GOP lawmakers or the baseball team on the gunman’s devices. Wenstrup’s comments are the first public references that the FBI concluded the shooting was a “suicide by cop.”

That day, a lone gunman, James Hodgkinson, unloaded dozens of rounds at GOP lawmakers practicing on an Alexandria, Va., field for the annual congressional baseball game. After asking one lawmaker whether the team was the Republicans or Democrats, Hodgkinson returned to his van — which had been stationed outside the field for weeks — pulled out two firearms and began shooting at the team, narrowly missing Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) before hitting Scalise in the hip, which nearly led to him bleeding to death on the field. Scalise required multiple surgeries and weeks in the hospital before recovering and returning to Congress.

Several lawmakers were injured fleeing and a lobbyist practicing with the team was seriously wounded by a gunshot to the chest. Two Capitol Police officers, who were at the field as part of Scalise’s security detail, were wounded as well and helped delay the shooter’s advance until other law enforcement arrived and helped end the attack. Hodgkinson died of injuries shortly afterward.

While the FBI never released public conclusions about the shooting, Alexandria prosecutors publicly labeled the attack “terrorism.”

“The evidence in this case establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect, fueled by rage against Republican legislators, decided to commit an act of terrorism as that term is defined by the Code of Virginia,” commonwealth prosecutor Bryan Porter concluded.

Wenstrup’s criticism of the bureau’s different conclusion — which he supplemented with a letter to Wray — drew notes of support from Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence panel.

“I actually would like to associate my — your comments with my interest in wanting to pursue that as well, Dr. Wenstrup,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

“I’d like to second Dr. Wenstrup’s questions on the near massacre of our colleagues in 2017,” added Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). “So I, like my colleague, Jackie Speier, have a particular interest in that.”

The FBI declined repeated inquiries by POLITICO to comment on the exchange or to confirm that it did, in fact, classify the shooting as a “suicide by cop.” McCabe did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wenstrup said the confirmation came in a private briefing that members of the GOP baseball team received in November 2017. He said he visited the FBI just two days later to complain about the “suicide by cop” determination.

“Although the agents were not part of that investigation, they did not agree that this was suicide by cop and it’s my firsthand opinion that this was an attempt at assassination of many Republican members of Congress,” Wenstrup said to Wray.

Wenstrup said neither he nor the other members of the GOP baseball team were ever contacted by investigators to inquire about the shooting. He’s asking Wray to task the FBI Counterterrorism Division with reviewing the conclusions relayed to the lawmakers four years ago.

He compared the attack to the Jan. 6 mob assault by thousands of Trump supporters on the Capitol, calling Hodgkinson’s rampage an “insurrection” that he said was of equal concern. Despite subsequent notes of agreement from committee Democrats, Wenstrup accused Democrats of being unconcerned about the attack. And Kelly, whose life was likely saved by a chain link fence that deflected one of Hodgkinson’s first, close-range shots, echoed Wenstrup’s call for the FBI to revisit the matter.

“It was not a suicide by cop,” Kelly said. “And I would really wish you guys would follow up and clean that up because it matters to me.”

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