WASHINGTON — Senate security officials have taken new steps to protect the secrecy of senators’ weekly closed-door lunches US Capitol after a contract employee was arrested and accused of audiotaping a Republican luncheon in early March, four sources said.
“It’s really concerning,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., of the incident, which has not yet been made public. “These talks are an opportunity for senators to speak openly about issues. So it is problematic to register people and make them easily identifiable by their voices.”
Capitol police arrested a 25-year-old Maryland man and charged him with a misdemeanor, “wiretapping/use of wiretapping devices,” which court documents later dismissed. The clerk told police he had his phone set to record for “several hours” during the Senate Republican luncheon on March 7 and left it behind, court documents said. When the clerk went back with a police escort to get the phone, he was told it wasn’t there. A senator spotted the phone and turned it over to police, two sources said.
NBC News does not identify the employee because the charges were dropped. An attorney for the person did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The arrest prompted security officials to implement new protocols for contractors and service workers, including requiring workers to leave cell phones in closets outside party meeting rooms before entering Senate luncheons.
According to court documents, before his arrest, the police officer told the police that he recorded the meeting “for several hours”. He also claimed that he was married to the Vice President of Liberia and “wanted to get American political information to his ‘wife’, the Vice President of Liberia.”
There is no record of the staffer being married to the Vice President of Liberia. The Liberian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the document, the clerk also possessed “garbage collected” from the Senate Republican noon session, including “a slideshow of information discussed at the event.”
“It was a temporary person hired by the hospitality staff. The phone was left in record mode found in the grocery line,” Republican Senate Conference Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said. “It’s very worrying.”
The arrested person was in the Capitol that day as an employee of At Your Service, a food and bartender company with locations on the East Coast. The company provides staff for Senate luncheons and other functions as a subcontractor for Restaurant Associates, the company that handles dining on the Senate side of the Capitol, court filings said.
“This activity is in direct violation of our policies, much less the proper decorum and respect we expect of anyone serving the Senate community,” Sam Souccar, senior vice president of creative services for Restaurant Associates, told NBC News in a statement . “We can confirm that the issue has been addressed and dealt with appropriately.”
When asked for information about the incident, a US Capitol Police spokesman said, “We are unable to publicly discuss any potentially ongoing investigations at this time.”
The Senate Sergeant at Arms did not respond to repeated requests for information about the incident or a subsequent security situation.
The weekly Senate Party Luncheons, held almost every Tuesday in the Capitol, provide senators with an opportunity to discuss the agenda for the week and strategize for upcoming legislation and nominations. The sessions are attended by senators and very few staff; Conversations are considered private but are often shared with reporters.
“I think it was a one-time thing,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D. “The question I had was, did someone make him do it? And to my knowledge the answer is no.”
When asked why he spoke to police at the Capitol on March 7, the catering worker said, “I just got caught up in a misunderstanding.”
In the incident, Republican senators are buzzing about what the clerk was doing and why he was able to come to lunch.
“I am very concerned that this is someone in close proximity to the building and members, some of whom have been assigned personal security,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va. “I think that was worrying when I heard it.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
Source : news.yahoo.com