Scarred by Riot, U.S. Capitol a Fortress for Trump Impeachment Trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen behind barbed wire fences. (REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger)

Less than five weeks after the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol that sparked former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, the complex is a fortress.

An 8-foot (2.5-meter) tall fence encircles the U.S. government’s traditionally open heart topped with barbed wire. Thousands of National Guard troops patrol the halls and a gilded portion of one staircase is bandaged over.

Trump on Tuesday faces a U.S. Senate impeachment trial on a charge of inciting insurrection following a Jan. 6 speech, two weeks before leaving office, to thousands of supporters urging they “fight like hell” against his election defeat. Hundreds stormed the Capitol, fighting police and sending lawmakers running for safety. Five people died, one a police officer.

After that, the heavy security measures were put in place. The U.S. Homeland Security Department warned the country could for weeks face a heightened threat of attacks by extremists angry at Trump’s election defeat, possibly targeting federal or state government buildings.

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for U.S. Capitol Police, said the heightened security would remain in place at least through Trump’s trial, expected to last at least a week.

“The Department’s current security posture continues to demand that we operate at a high-level of readiness for the upcoming Senate impeachment trial and the continued threats directed at the Congress and the Capitol,” she said.

A Capitol Police member died of injuries from the attack and a total of 125 officers of its 2,300-strong force were assaulted during the rampage, which took place after Trump for nearly two months repeatedly claimed, contrary to evidence, that President Joe Biden’s November victory was the result of widespread fraud.

Multiple courts, as well as state and federal election officials, rejected Trump’s claims.

The attack occurred while Congress met to formally certify Biden’s victory. Hundreds of lawmakers, Vice President Mike Pence, their staffs, families and journalists scrambled for safety, some hiding in rooms in the Capitol for hours as authorities struggled to gain control of the mob.

The attack shook the country, even as it further exposed the divisions laid bare under the Republican Trump.

“The insurrectionist attack on January 6 was not only an attack on the Capitol, but was a traumatic assault targeting Members,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to lawmakers urging them to collect their recollections on video.

A Democrat, Pelosi ordered metal detectors installed at the entrance to the House chamber, drawing swift criticism and challenges from Republican gun-rights activists in Congress. She called for a commission to investigate the incident similar to one that examined the security failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It is far from clear when the Capitol will resemble more closely its former self. Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman urged the fencing around the Capitol be made permanent, a recommendation decried by lawmakers and officials.

“We certainly need to protect our Capitol,” said Peter Newsham, police chief of Prince William County, Virginia, and former police chief of Washington, D.C. “But I’m not feeling like that’s the way we want to look as the United States.”