EXCLUSIVE: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and other GOP lawmakers nearly killed in the 2017 Congressional baseball practice shooting said in interviews with Fox News that they want FBI Director Christopher Wray to explain why his agency labeled the incident an attempt at “suicide by cop.”
Scalise and other lawmakers who spoke to Fox News said the FBI never adequately explained how it reached its conclusion while other federal agencies and the Virginia state prosecutor ruled the incident was an act of domestic extremism. The gunman, a progressive activist named James Hodgkinson, compiled a list of six Republican congressmen ahead of the shooting and asked whether the lawmakers on the field were Republicans or Democrats before opening fire.
“It seems very odd that the FBI reports would come to that conclusion when everybody else that looked at it clearly recognized that it was an act of domestic terrorism,” Scalise said in an interview with Fox News. “We’re asking Director Wray to go and re-evaluate the classification but also to look into why they came to that conclusion. He wasn’t the director when that determination was made, but we’re very curious to know why someone made a determination that far off base.”
In a letter this week, a group of 17 GOP lawmakers who were either present on the field during the shooting or whose names were found on the gunman’s list asked Wray to update the FBI’s conclusion and determine how the agency reached its original conclusion.
The FBI confirmed that it had received the letter but provided no further comment.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., noted that all six names found on the gunman’s list – Reps. Trent Franks, Jim Jordan, Scott DesJarlais, Jeff Duncan, Mo Brooks and his own – were members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. He called it “illogical” for the FBI to conclude Hodgkinson drove to Republican baseball practice to commit suicide by cop.
“If it was all random, why was he asking if it was the Republican baseball practice? That’s not random. That’s a specific, intended target. As an aside, was he thinking about, you know, he would die in a blaze of glory? That’s certainly possible but that’s not his main motivation here,” Griffith said. “He was looking, in my opinion, for Republicans, in an attempt to kill Republicans. I don’t think there’s anybody who looks at the evidence completely and rationally who can come to any other conclusion.”
The FBI never publicly disclosed what led its agents to conclude the shooting was an attempt at suicide by cop. At a June 2017 press conference, agency officials said the shooting appeared to be “spontaneous” and Hodgkinson acted alone, with no known connection to terrorist groups.
A frequent critic of Republicans on social media, Hodgkinson lived out of a van near the ballfield for weeks prior to the shooting. He died following a shootout with police at the scene. Aside from Scalise, two Capitol Police officers and a lobbyist were also shot during the incident.
The designation first became public knowledge last month when Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, revealed during a House intelligence committee hearing that the FBI informed lawmakers of the classification at a Nov. 2017 briefing. Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier and Jim Cooper also backed Wenstrup’s call for a review of the matter.
Wenstrup, whose experience as an Army medical officer helped to save Scalise’s life the day of the shooting, noted that both the Department of Homeland Security and the office of the Director of National Intelligence had concluded the shooting was an act of domestic extremism.
The Ohio lawmaker called for Wray to investigate whether the personal politics of top FBI officials at the time, such as former acting FBI Director and Trump foe Andrew McCabe, factored into the agency’s designation.
“Was this political? Was there a conversation within the FBI that said, ‘Hey, you know what, this was done by somebody on the left, let’s not call it terrorism’? I don’t know. But in 2017, I didn’t know Andrew McCabe, but certainly we’ve heard a lot about Andrew McCabe and his role in the Russian collusion situation,” Wenstrup said.
In late April, Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the FBI, said the incident would likely be treated as an act of domestic terrorism if it occurred today. She noted that the gunman was motivated by a “blend” of factors.
“It’s fair to say the shooter was motivated by a desire to commit an attack on members of Congress and then knowing by doing so he would likely be killed in the process,” she said.
Neither the FBI nor Wray has indicated whether they intend to honor the request from GOP lawmakers. So far, the agency has declined to change its designation of the event.
Rep. Glenn Fleischmann, R-Tenn., another survivor of the shooting, said a review was essential to reassure Americans of the FBI’s ability to accurately assess incidents of this magnitude.
“Get the truth out, not only for the benefit of us and our families but for the benefit of the American people, so that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Fleischmann said. “You just want to make sure that, with any investigation, that you get the facts correctly and you get them out so the record is correct, history is correct, and we can try to avoid these miscues in the future.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.