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Capitol on high alert but quiet amid March 4 threat

By BEATRICE PETERSON and BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — As Capitol Police and National Guard troops were on high alert amid a potential threat tied to March 4, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed that the House changed its schedule so it wouldn’t be in session on Thursday.

“I don’t think anybody should take any encouragement that because some troublemakers might show up that we changed our whole schedule,” Pelosi told reporters. “No, we just moved it a few hours,” she said, to accommodate Republicans headed to an issues retreat Thursday afternoon.

“We were going to be out by noon because we promised that to the Republicans,” she said.

The House held a late-night session on Wednesday to ensure that members and staff would not have to be on the Capitol complex on March 4.

At the same time, Pelosi conceded there were security concerns for House members, compared to the Senate, which was in session Thursday, noting that the House is “at least four times more people, and therefore, all that that implies in terms of numbers of people in the Capitol if, in fact, there’s any troublemakers around, and it made sense.”

Capitol Police officials said earlier Wednesday they had “obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4” — the date far-right conspiracy theorists believe former President Donald Trump would return to power.

As of mid-day Thursday, security remained visibly tight but there was no indication that any attack would happen.

The intelligence, law enforcement sources said, suggested the militia plot hoped to draw 50,000 members from around the country to overwhelm and take the Capitol but there was sign of large numbers of people headed to Washington. Authorities have been monitoring travel to D.C. and hotel reservations and they say they have seen no meaningful uptick –- such things are more noticeable as travel during the pandemic has been relatively light and hotel room availability remains high.

Capitol Police faced criticism for not sharing intelligence from the FBI about the potential for violence the day before the Jan. 6 attack and since then smart phones have been distributed to all officers and intelligence shared with them.

In response to the ongoing threats, ABC News has confirmed that Capitol Police officials have requested a 60-day extension for the National Guard presence at the Capitol.

There are currently more than 5,000 armed National Guard troops still at the Capitol and in the city, down from the peak of 25,000 present for security at the Jan. 20 inauguration.

The scheduled end for the 5,000 remaining troops is March 12.

Asked about the National Guard presence, Pelosi said a security review could be made public next week.

“We should have them here as long as they are needed, and the silliness of this being Inauguration Day … falls into the realm of let’s not waste our time on it,” she said. “We have to have what we need, and when we need it, and in the numbers we need it. But that’s a security decision.”

She added, with “the threat of all the president’s men out there, we have to ensure with our security that we are safe enough to do our job.”

“It’s going to take more money to protect the Capitol in a way that enables people to come here, children to come and see our democracy in action, all of you to cover what happens here safely, members to be comfortable that they are safe when they are here, and not be concerned about what happened last time, but that — that just doesn’t have a place in a democracy.”

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief U.S. Yogananda Pittman also told Congress in February that there are ongoing threats to disrupt President Joe Biden’s expected speech to a joint session of Congress, perhaps later this month.

“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified,” Pittman testified. “So, based on that information we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward.”

The Capitol security review commissioned by Pelosi and led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore will recommend adding roughly 1,000 new Capitol Police officers to the force and improving infrastructure around the Capitol Hill complex, according to an executive summary obtained by ABC News.

The draft report, which has been shared with congressional leaders and relevant committees, recommends replacing the temporary, razor wire-topped fencing around the House and Senate office buildings with both mobile and retractable fencing that could still “enable an open campus” absent any threats.

It also recommends empowering the Capitol Police chief to request assistance from federal law enforcement and the D.C. National Guard in an emergency, to avoid the bottleneck and extensive delays that plagued the response to the Jan. 6 riot.

Other recommendations in the report include that Capitol Police should maintain Civil Disobedience Units to be on duty whenever Congress is in session, that more K9 units are needed to detect explosives, that the Capitol Police mounted unit be reestablished and that a permanent quick reaction force be on standby to supplement Capitol Police and local law enforcement when needed.

ABC News’ Jack Date and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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