By Andrew Zhang and Abby Livingston / Texas Tribune
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police said Tuesday they were conducting a routine security check of U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls’ office three months ago, rejecting an accusation from the congressman that officers were using illegal tactics to investigate him as political retribution.
Nehls, a Republican from Richmond, claimed without evidence on Twitter on Tuesday morning that U.S. Capitol Police intelligence officers illegally entered his office in November and photographed legislative documents. He speculated that the actions came because of his criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. While Nehls, the former Fort Bend sheriff, helped defend the Capitol on the day of the attack, helping police barricade the doors, he has since labeled investigations into the events as a Democrat-led attack on former President Donald Trump.
Nehls said in his tweets that the police first entered his office on Nov. 20 and then later attempted to enter his office on Nov. 22, where they encountered one of Nehls’ staff members.
“Upon discovering a member of my staff, special agents dressed like construction workers began to question him as to the contents of a photograph taken illegally two days earlier,” Nehls tweeted.
Capitol police later issued a public statement that said Nehls is not under investigation and the search was routine procedure because his office was found open.
“If a Member’s office is left open and unsecured, without anyone inside the office, USCP officers are directed to document that and secure the office to ensure nobody can wander in and steal or do anything else nefarious,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement.
“No case investigation was ever initiated or conducted into the Representative or his staff,” Manger said.
In a statement, Nehls said the issue was not whether the office was entered legally, but whether the officer took a picture of private congressional material protected under law.
“Somebody in the Capitol Police took a picture of the whiteboard, shared it with the command center, who shared it with a special agent, who shared it with another supervisor who then had three guys show up at my office,” Nehls told reporters outside the House floor before a vote. “All I’m asking is let’s see the photo that they took.”
Manger said in his statement that police personnel were following up with the staff after they initially secured his empty office.
In a separate statement released Tuesday evening, Nehls said Manger mischaracterized the events and omitted details, and that he looked forward to an Office of Inspector General investigation into the matter.
“In what world does Capitol Police leadership encourage officers to enter a Member’s private office, take photographs, collect evidence, dispatch intelligence agents to question staff — and then say that’s not an investigation?” Nehls said in the statement.
Nehls, a freshman congressman and former police officer, made headlines the day of the riot for helping secure the House chamber from the influx of supporters of Trump who were trying to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election. But afterward, on the evening of Jan. 6, 2021, he joined the Republican effort to oppose certification of votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
He ran for Congress in 2020, touting more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, including being elected as Fort Bend County sheriff in 2012 and reelected in 2016. But his record in law enforcement was criticized during his campaign.
In 1998, he was fired from the Richmond Police Department after committing 19 violations — ranging from improper arrests to destruction of evidence — in one year. While he was sheriff, he faced a warning from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that his department jail needed to take corrective action after two inmate deaths in less than two months.
Since the riot, Nehls has toed the Republican line of opposing the investigation into the attack. He has condemned the rioters for infiltrating the Capitol but declines to blame Trump for the event.
In June, House Democrats voted to establish a House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, with all Republicans besides Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois voting against the move. Afterwards, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recommended Nehls as one of five Republicans to sit on the committee. However, Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s recommendations, and the minority leader pulled all of his picks from the committee in protest.
Since then, Nehls told Forbes that he and the other four Republicans originally recommended for the Jan. 6 committee have established their own probe.
On the one-year anniversary of the riot, Nehls released a statement calling Pelosi’s select committee a “weapon against President Trump” and accusing her of failing “to protect the Capitol grounds.”