Tuesday, November 08, 2005

FBI called in on Hill

FBI called in on Hill

The FBI and Capitol Police are investigating the vicious attack of a top Senate staffer at her home last week amid concerns that the assault might be related to her work on the Finance Committee.

Emilia DiSanto, chief investigator for committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), arrived at her suburban Virginia home after work Wednesday about 6:30 p.m. As she was unloading belongings from her car, a 6-foot-1-inch white man dressed in black struck her repeatedly with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat.

After she screamed to her family inside the house, the assailant fled. DiSanto was transported to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, where she was treated for significant upper-body injuries. Nine staples were needed to close her head wound.

DiSanto, who declined to comment, has reported back to work.

The attack and the possibility that it was motivated by congressional business have made some people anxious on Capitol Hill.

“This is of obvious concern to anyone working here,” a Senate staffer said. “It’s very disconcerting when you worry about someone resorting to violence. This could be intimidation, and you wonder whether it’s safe to do your job.”

The attack on DiSanto came two days before a bomb threat caused alarm at an Iowa veterans home where Grassley was scheduled to appear.

According to the Iowa Times Republican, an anonymous caller told a switchboard operator Friday that a bomb would detonate in the center’s cemetery shortly before 1 p.m. The threat was not in the area where Grassley was scheduled to appear and later was deemed a false alarm. Grassley made the visit to the center as planned.

No evidence has surfaced that definitively points to DiSanto’s work on the Finance Committee as the trigger for the attack, but sources say there are a number of clues that suggest it could be.

The assailant was trying to hide his identity, wearing a hood and black gloves. He also did not make any demands before attacking the 49-year-old staffer. A working assumption among investigators is that he was waiting for her to arrive home.

Sources say acts of violence in DiSanto’s neighborhood are rare.

Grassley is known for his aggressive oversight of the public and private sector. Over the past year, he has scrutinized healthcare fraud, organ-donation procedures used by hospitals, drug-safety matters and the use of nonprofit groups related to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In her line of work, DiSanto “doesn’t make a lot of friends,” an aide said.

Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said federal and local law-enforcement officials have not ruled out the possibility that the attack was work-related. She said Grassley and DiSanto have discussed the incident.

The only reason why the FBI is involved is because the assault may have been work-related.

There is no indication that the bomb threat and the DiSanto event are related. 

Fairfax County police are treating the attack as an attempted homicide.

Some Senate staffers said Capitol Police did not initially treat the attack as work-related late last week.

“We don’t do law enforcement, but that one was a really hard one to swallow,” a Senate aide said.

Capitol Police said they were deferring to Fairfax County police, who are taking the lead on the probe.

In response to the attack, Ken Cunningham, Grassley’s chief of staff, sent an e-mail to Grassley employees urging them to report any suspicious activity or incidents to the Senate sergeant at arms. Cunningham noted in the e-mail that Grassley had asked the FBI to investigate.

Grassley is one of Capitol Hill’s most vocal critics of the FBI.

Capitol Police Chief Terrence Gainer said the unit is looking at the possible relationship between the attack on DiSanto and her position at the Capitol.

“I think all the agents involved are looking into the motive,” he added.

Gainer said three agencies conferred Friday and yesterday to discuss the ongoing investigation.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency is looking into the attack.

Senate aides say they have been rattled by the incident, and some have taken extra precautions after hearing of it.

DiSanto has worked on the Hill for more than a decade. In July 2000, she was identified by Fortune magazine as one of the “Power 30” in Washington as the staff director for then-Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Kit Bond (R-Mo.). She also worked for the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities in the mid 1990s.

If this was work-related, it has to do with the Abramhof side of the Rethug mob.

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