Capitol Police played key role in saving people's lives, officials say

Last Updated Jun 14, 2017 11:22 AM EDT

Rep. Steve Scalise's presence at the congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, where a shooting unfolded Wednesday morning may have saved a number of lives, Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday.

As a member of House leadership, Scalise, the House majority whip, had members of dignitary protection traveling with him at the practice. That's the only reason why Capitol Police were at the scene when shots were fired, Paul said.

"The only reason they were there was because we had a member of leadership on our team," Paul said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "If Scalise wouldn't have been on the team…him being there, he probably saved everybody else's life because if you don't have a member of leadership there, there probably would have been no security there."

He added that if they had not been there, "It would have been a massacre."

Scalise was among at least five people shot and he was transferred to MedStar Washington Hospital Center to undergo surgery. He had been shot in the hip. His office said he was in "stable condition" and that he was in "good spirits" before entering surgery.

Tim Slater, special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington, D.C. field office, confirmed that Scalise was traveling with a protection team.

"I'm sure it made a significant difference," Slater said of the officer's' presence as the shooting transpired.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa confirmed that two Capitol Police officers engaged fire with the gunman, who has now been identified as James T. Hodgkinson. He would not reveal how many Capitol Police officers were on the scene initially.

Plain-clothes Capitol Police officers protect senior members of Congress, including Scalise. They are part of a separate division within Capitol Police -- the department of protective services. They look and act like Secret Service but are separate entities. They also protect Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, and others. They also investigate threats against members of Congress. Scalise, as House Majority Whip, generally travels in an armored SUV with two plain clothes Capitol Police officers with him.

Paul said he was in the batting cage at the time that he heard the first shot and then a "rapid succession of shots." He said there was a ten-foot fence between him and the field and he saw Scalise had been shot, but was moving and dragging himself through the dirt. He saw two staffers laying down, one of whom then climbed a 15 to 20-foot fence who then hid behind a tree with Paul. He said he heard at least 50 to 60 gunshots and then he finally heard Capitol Police responding.

"We're actually very lucky they were there," he said.

CBS News' Walt Cronkite and Jillian Hughes contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.