FBI releases details about Baird threat probe

Incident traced to Kansan irked about congressman's TV comment

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Seven months after Rep. Brian Baird reported a telephoned death threat to the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., more details have trickled out.

It turns out it was an unidentified man in Kansas who left a message on Baird’s Washington, D.C., office phone last August advising him to “keep a close eye out for those Ryder rental trucks” after Baird made an ill-advised televised comment during the summer’s heated debate about health care reform.

The Capitol Police turned the matter over to the FBI, which classified it as a “terrorist threat.” The FBI tracked down the caller in Kansas, determined he did not pose a threat, and closed the books on the case with a mild admonishment.

This all transpired on Aug. 14, 2009, three days after the call was reported.

On Nov. 10, the FBI acknowledged that it had closed its investigation of the alleged death threat after concluding it did not constitute a serious threat.

On Thursday, seven months after requesting it, The Columbian received a heavily redacted copy of the FBI incident report in response to its Freedom of Information Act request.

Here’s what we know now:

On Aug. 11, 2009, at 9:24 p.m., a male caller left this message on Baird’s office voice mail: “Brian . . . You think we’re all Timothy McVeigh types, huh? I’d keep a close eye out for those Ryder rental trucks if I were you. You never know when one might show up. Bye.”

The call was a response to Baird’s remark that the political climate surrounding health care reform in August of 2009 reminded him of the climate in the spring of 1995, when Timothy McVeigh was plotting the Oklahoma City bombing.

Baird got a lot of grief over the McVeigh comment at home, too, especially from Republicans, who also took him to task for mentioning the death threat in a public appearance. Some opponents flatly accused him of fabricating the story.

In Kansas, FBI agents using phone records quickly tracked the caller to an address (Kansas City or Wichita, it isn’t clear which from the redacted report). Two agents knocked on the door. The person of interest wasn’t home, but a woman who answered reached him by phone. He called the agents minutes later.

The caller readily admitting making the call to Baird. But according to the incident report, he “advised (that) in no way did he intend to cause any problems, and certainly he was not going to go out and rent a Ryder truck and do harm, nor did he know anyone else who would.”

He told the agents he was venting his frustration and exercising his freedom of speech when he made the call “and certainly was not a terrorist,” or even a trouble-maker.

He apologized for causing the FBI to spend time or money to track him down.

He also volunteered that he had made another call, just the previous night, to a U.S. senator, because he disagreed with the senator’s calling people racist just because they disagreed with President Barack Obama.

The FBI agents were diplomatic. They told the caller, according to the report, “that many people share his emotions and feelings, but there are better ways to express them.” Then they ended the call.

Because the caller had no criminal record, other than several local speeding violations, and because he had been venting his frustration, “possibly using too harsh of means to do so,” they pronounced the case closed.

Baird was flying home Friday, and his office said he would not be available for comment.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.