Intruder breaches GOP's private retreat

WASHINGTON • For hours, the intruder strolled around what should have been one of the most tightly secured buildings in the US.

Inside the Loews Hotel in downtown Philadelphia at various points last Thursday were United States President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and scores of other Congressmen from the Republican Party, also known as the GOP (Grand Old Party).

Reporters were kept out, and only a few select staff, family members and outsiders were allowed to participate in the private Republican policy retreat.

However, at least one unauthorised person made it inside. While it is unclear to what degree the country's top leaders were in physical danger, their circle of trust was undoubtedly breached.

An unknown person secretly recorded closed-door sessions on national security and healthcare that were attended by many Republican lawmakers, who had gathered for a private discussion on some of the thorniest legislative issues of the moment, as well as a question-and-answer session with Mr Pence.

A DANGEROUS BREACH

If someone can get in and we don't know who it is, they could have got in and been a dangerous person... Just from the security standpoint, that's not good.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVE BRAT, a conservative from Virginia, on the unidentified intruder.

The recordings were anonymously e-mailed that night to reporters for The Washington Post and other news outlets, who published stories exposing major qualms inside the party over plans to roll back the Democratic Party's healthcare reforms, and a looming debate between defence hawks and advocates of fiscal rectitude.

Meanwhile, Mr Pence made the news by committing to pursue an investigation into unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud.

The intruder's identity is not known. The individual communicated with The Washington Post anonymously via e-mail. The Post reported the contents of the recordings after confirming their authenticity with quoted lawmakers or their staff.

Several lawmakers said they were outraged by the infiltration and have demanded answers on how an interloper made it inside the Republicans' sanctum sanctorum.

"Members want to be able to have a candid discussion about issues in that setting," said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate from Pennsylvania. "I have to think most of my colleagues are very upset about how this could have happened."

Representative Dave Brat, a conservative from Virginia, said: "If someone can get in and we don't know who it is, they could have got in and been a dangerous person... Just from the security standpoint, that's not good."

The president of the Congressional Institute, the private non-profit group tied to Republican lobbyists that organises the retreat each year, told lawmakers in an e-mail last Saturday that an "unauthorised person" infiltrated the retreat for nearly 11 hours using "counterfeit credentials". The intruder was later ejected.

The woman "misrepresented herself on multiple occasions to retreat organisers as the spouse of an elected official", the president, Mr Mark Strand, wrote. "We are working closely with Capitol police to ascertain the identity of the woman in question," he added.

The e-mail did not indicate whether the woman who was ejected was the person who made the recordings. Mr Strand declined to comment further, citing a "very active police investigation".

Should the intruder be identified, he or she could face charges under local trespassing or wiretapping laws.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'Intruder breaches GOP's private retreat'. Print Edition | Subscribe