Federal authorities have opened an investigation against a reporter who tweeted from inside the U.S. Capitol building during a riot by supporters of President Donald Trump on January 6, The Desk has learned.
The investigation centers around a tweet posted by Elijah Schaffer, a reporter with the conservative-leaning news outlet The Blaze, that contained a photograph showing the e-mail inbox of a staff member in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office.
“BREAKING: I am inside Nancy Pelosi’s office with the thousands of revolutionaries who have stormed the building,” Schaffer’s tweet read. “To put into perspective how quickly staff evacuated, emails are still on the screen alongside a federal alert warning members of the current revolution.”
The tweet included a photograph that revealed the contents of an email account used by Nathaniel Holmes, a staff scheduler with Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office. It was widely saved and shared across Twitter and other social media platforms before Schaffer deleted the tweet. He later re-posted a variant of the photo that concealed the contents of the inbox.
Not only that, but one of the staffer’s computers in her office was left unlocked, leading to concerns of security compromise
I did not see anyone accessing these computers directly but I took this image because it shows how quickly people fled pic.twitter.com/Af3xqljGR8
— E (@ElijahSchaffer) January 7, 2021
“I previously deleted this picture out of caution for privacy concerns after I was alerted it may have contained sensitive information, which it did not,” Schaffer tweeted. He said the computer in question was “left unlocked, leading to concerns of security compromise.”
“I did not see anyone accessing these computers directly, but I took this image because it shows how quickly people fled,” he wrote.
Federal law enforcement authorities have now opened an investigation into the initial tweet and are attempting to determine if Schaffer violated any computer trespass or federal wiretapping laws by viewing the inbox and publishing the photo of its contents, according to a law enforcement source who spoke with The Desk on condition of anonymity earlier this week.
No charges have been filed and Schaffer has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, the source said. But members of Pelosi’s staff have been asked about the tweet and the photo as part of a broader set of interviews following the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, including whether the computer at the center of the photo was left unlocked just before staff were asked to evacuate.
Federal prosecutors are required to seek approval from the U.S. Attorney General’s office before criminal charges are filed against journalists. For this reason, if prosecutors are convinced Schaffer broke a law, it could be weeks or even months before official charges are filed, if they are brought at all, the source said.
Schaffer responded to an initial inquiry by The Desk over Twitter but did not return follow-up questions when asked about his social media post. Holmes, the Pelosi staffer whose inbox was on full display, did not return an e-mail seeking comment. Terri McCullough, the chief of staff for Rep. Pelosi, did not return an e-mail from The Desk seeking to confirm information about the investigation. The Blaze did not respond to a message left via its media relations webpage asking for comment on the matter.
Since the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, authorities have vowed to hunt down and charge those responsible. In the days that followed, police arrested dozens of individuals across the country, charging them with a range of local and federal offenses related to the attack. On Wednesday, officials with the FBI and Department of Justice’s Washington, D.C. offices said hundreds of criminal cases are likely to be brought in the coming weeks.
“I want to stress that the FBI has a long memory and a broad reach,” Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director of the FBI field office in Washington, D.C., said at a news conference. “Even if you’ve left D.C., agents from our local field offices will be knocking on your door if we find out that you’re part of the criminal activity at the Capitol.”
Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., said federal authorities were looking at a broad range of crimes from “simple trespass, to theft of mail, to theft of digital devices inside the Capitol.”
Sherwin did not say whether any members of the media who were inside the Capitol were the focal point of any criminal investigation, but he did reveal the existence of a newly-formed task force that was established to review cases where journalists were the target of vandalism and assault.
“Some of those rioters specifically targeted members of the media and assaulted them,” Sherwin said. “We’ve assigned specific prosecutors in our office to focus on those cases as well.”