Blind spot: Rep. Scalise asks FBI to review findings of 2017 attack on Republicans

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Today Rep. Steve Scalise and a group of Republican lawmakers sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking that the FBI review its findings on the 2017 baseball practice shooting. The letter refers to the fact that despite clear evidence that James Hodgkinson was motivated by partisan animus to attack specifically Republicans who were practicing at the field that day, the FBI eventually determined his motive was “suicide by cop.” Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

On June 14, 2017, James Hodgkinson opened fire on Republican Members of Congress at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia, during the final practice before the annual Congressional Baseball Game. One week later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released initial findings from the investigation, including previous complaints of target practice on the attacker’s property in Illinois, two firearms on the scene, hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a storage locker, a social media history of anti-Republican views, and a potential “hit list” of six Members of Congress – Republicans Trent Franks, Jim Jordan, Morgan Griffith, Scott DesJarlais, Jeff Duncan, and Mo Brooks – in his pocket. Prior to opening fire, he even asked if the Members on the field that morning were Republican or Democrat and was assured that the Members were Republicans. One week after the shooting, the FBI said that it was “investigating this shooting as an assault on a member of Congress and an assault on a federal officer.”…

Despite these facts, on November 16, 2017, FBI personnel verbally briefed members of the team that Hodgkinson’s motivation for opening fire was “suicide by cop.” What is even more astounding about this assertion is that this information was given more than a month after the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Alexandria found that “[t]he 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 in defined by the Code of Virginia,” and continuing, “The suspect…ambushed a peaceful assembly of people practicing baseball and began to fire indiscriminately in an effort to kill and maim as many people as possible.”

The letter points out that if it hadn’t been for the heroic actions of Scalise’s security detail, who were in plain clothes and sitting in an unmarked car, the result that morning would likely have been a large body count. It goes on to suggest there seems to be a blind spot in the FBI’s focus on domestic terrorism:

We fear that the FBI’s inability or unwillingness to fully investigate this shooting as a matter of domestic extremism four years ago leaves a blind spot within the Bureau in fully assessing risks we face today. The FBI telling us that James Hodgkinson’s attempt to assassinate dozens of Members of Congress was simply “suicide by cop” does nothing to alleviate this concern…

…we ask that you review the FBI’s findings of the 2017 attack, interview all witnesses who were present that morning, update the conclusions of the FBI’s investigation, if warranted, and publicly release the findings. We also urge you to conduct an internal investigation into how the FBI reached the conclusion of “suicide by cop” and who was behind that process and determination.

Notice there are really two requests being made in that final paragraph. The first is to review the findings and update the findings. The second is to conduct an investigation into how the FBI got this wrong in the first place. That certainly sounds like an interesting avenue to explore. Who specifically thought this made sense?

Like Scalise, I’m convinced the FBI almost certainly got this wrong. This was an attempted attack based on the shooter’s personal partisan motives against unarmed targets. He likely wasn’t even aware when he started shooting that there were armed cops on hand to effectuate a “suicide by cop.” If all he was looking for was suicide by cop, he could have found a cop and threatened him, not a field full of Republican lawmakers.

At a minimum, if the FBI wants to stick to that claim they should have to explain in detail why they are ignoring the evidence to the contrary.