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Rep. Bill Keating denies involvement after National Guard members forced into parking garage

Soldiers with the 206th Military Police Battalion, New York National Guard, outside the Library of Congress. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)

U.S. Rep. Bill Keating has been caught up in the fury sweeping through Washington after National Guard soldiers called in to protect the U.S. Capitol were banished to a cold parking garage — but the congressman is vehemently denying he had anything to do with their plight.

Images of National Guard members camped out on the hard concrete with reportedly little access to bathrooms, power outlets and cellphone service stunned the nation and infuriated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The soldiers were soon allowed back in. But as confusion reigned over why the troops were evicted from the Capitol building in the first place, the conservative Breitbart News Network pointed the finger at Keating, claiming via an unnamed source that the soldiers were forced out after the congressman complained that one wasn’t wearing a mask.

Both Keating and the National Guard refuted Breitbart’s report on Friday in statements provided to the Herald.

“It makes no sense and quite frankly could not be farther from the truth,” Major Gen. Gary Keefe of the Massachusetts National Guard said.

Keating said he was in a coffee shop in the House with a large number of people on Thursday when he saw some not wearing masks. President Biden on Wednesday had signed an executive order mandating mask wearing on federal property.

“I commented — to no one in particular — that this has the ingredients of a super-spreader event and we should all keep our masks on. A member of the National Guard chose to loudly refuse,” said Keating, who makes at least $174,000 a year as a congressman and earns a state pension of nearly $114,000 as a former district attorney, according to the comptroller’s office.

“That is the totality of what took place,” Keating said. “Over 400,000 people have already died in this country, roughly 4,000 a day, due to COVID, and if I were in the same situation today, I would say the exact same thing.”

Keefe, of the National Guard, said, “The relocation of National Guardsmen within the U.S. Capitol building grounds has nothing to do with Congressman Keating reminding a soldier of the requirement to wear their mask.”

Conflicting reports emerged Friday as to who ordered the soldiers out. The National Guard originally said Capitol Police asked to relocate them. But Capitol Police interim Chief Yogananda Pittman issued a statement Friday saying her agency “did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Building facilities.”

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday that “multiple members of military leadership” told him that a uniformed police officer told the troops to leave the Capitol Visitor Center.

According to the Massachusetts National Guard commander in the region, Capitol building officials directed the soldiers assigned to the Senate to move their break area to a parking garage because lawmakers were in session.

“The photos circulating on social media and through news reports showed National Guardsmen resting on the ground,” Keefe said. “What the stories failed to mention was that they were on a break, resting between shifts. At the end of the duty day, soldiers returned to their hotel rooms.”

Massachusetts National Guard members assisting with security for Biden’s inauguration were assigned to the House and were not ordered to relocate, officials said. They are due home on Saturday.

Irate lawmakers, including members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, have pledged to get to the bottom of why the troops were forced to leave.

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(c) 2021 the Boston Herald

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