Online chatter said include plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial

Republican lawmakers signal that Democrats will have fight on hands to secure conviction of Donald Trump

US federal law enforcement officials were examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former president Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the US Capitol, a US official said.

The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the US Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump’s trial, the official said.

The shocking insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob prompted federal officials to rethink security in and around its landmarks, resulting in an unprecedented lockdown for

. Though the event went off without any problems and armed protests around the country did not materialise, the threats to lawmakers ahead of Trump’s trial exemplified the continued potential for danger.

Similar to those intercepted by investigators ahead of Biden’s inauguration, the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility, said the official, who had been briefed on the matter. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial, according to the official.

The official was not authorised to not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Law enforcement officials were already starting to plan for the possibility of armed protesters returning to the nation’s capital when Trump’s Senate trial on a charge of inciting a violent insurrection begins the week of February 8. It would be the first impeachment trial of a former US president.

Thousands of Trump’s supporters descended on the Capitol on January 6 as Congress met to certify Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential race. More than 800 were believed to have made their way into the Capitol during the violent siege, pushing past overwhelmed police. The Capitol police said they planned for a free speech protest, not a riot, and were caught off guard despite intelligence the rally would descend into a riot. Five people died in the melee, including a Capitol police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.

Though much of the security apparatus around Washington set up after the riot and ahead of Biden’s inauguration – it included scores of military checkpoints and hundreds of additional law enforcement personnel – was no longer in place, about 7,000 members of the National Guard will remain to assist federal law enforcement, officials said.

The Guard Bureau said that the number of Guard members in Washington was less than 20,000 as of Sunday. All but about 7,000 of those will go home in the coming days. The Guard Bureau said that the number of troops in Washington would then continue to decline in the coming weeks to about 5,000. They were expected to stay in Washington until mid-March.

At least five people facing federal charges have suggested they believed they were taking orders from Trump when they marched on Capitol Hill on January 6 to challenge the certification of Biden’s election victory. But now those comments, captured in interviews with reporters and federal agents, are likely to take centre stage as Democrats lay out their case.

More than 130 people have been charged by federal prosecutors for their roles in the riot. In recent weeks, others have been arrested after posting threats against members of Congress.

They include a Proud Boys supporter who authorities said threatened to deploy “three cars full of armed patriots” to Washington, threatened harm against Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock, and who is accused of stockpiling military-style combat knives and more than 1,000 rifle rounds in his New York home. A Texas man was arrested this week for taking part in the riot at the Capitol and for posting violent threats, including a call to assassinate Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The threat of more violence comes as Republican lawmakers signalled that Democrats will have a fight on their hands to secure the conviction Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected on Monday to send senators a single article of impeachment passed in the House of Representatives that blames Trump for inciting the chaotic Capitol invasion.

But as both sides prepared for what is expected to be a quick trial, Republicans pushed back with political and constitutional arguments – raising doubts that Democrats, who control 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, can secure 17 Republican votes to reach the two-thirds majority needed to convict.

“I think the trial is stupid. I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top,” Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told

He acknowledged that Trump “bears some responsibility for what happened”.

But to “stir it up again” could only hurt the country, said Rubio, a presidential candidate beaten by Trump in the 2016 primary.

Other Republicans argued that the Senate has no authority to put a private citizen – as Trump now is – on trial.

Senator Mike Rounds told NBC’s

that the constitution does not allow for the impeachment of a former president.

But Senator Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate and a frequent Trump critic, told CNN that “the preponderance of legal opinion is that an impeachment trial after a president has left office is constitutional. I believe that’s the case”.

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