Democrat who accused GOP of giving rioters reconnaissance tours backs off

Protesters confront police inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Video screenshot)

A Democrat member of Congress, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., who earlier accused GOP colleagues in Congress of escorting people through the Capitol on January 5 for “reconnaissance” before the next day’s riot, is backing off.

A bit.

Sherrill said in a video posted online earlier that, “I also intend to see that those members of Congress who abetted him — those members of Congress who had groups coming through the capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 for reconnaissance for the next day — those members of Congress who incited the violent crowd, those members of Congress that attempted to help our president undermine our democracy, I’m going see that they’re held accountable.”

At the time, she declined to identify legislators or reveal why she thought any activities had been “reconnaissance.”

Now, however, she says it’s something that needs to be investigated.

“There is a possibility that they did not realize what some of these groups were doing, that they were groups of constituents — and they should not have brought them into the Capitol complex,” she said in an interview with CBS.

She said that people in a “suspicious group” she saw were wearing “MAGA hats and Trump things.”

She’s one of several Democrats who have claimed their colleagues possibly helped rioters by giving them those tours. She describe the actions as “reconnaissance” for the later riots.

Fox has reported she said, “Many of the members had received a security brief on Jan. 3, the sergeant-at-arms reposted for the new Congress information that there were no tours allowed, even tours given by members. So they should not have been in there.”

But she still declined to be specific, stating, “I don’t want to specify who they were, since it is an ongoing investigation. I have spoken to people at the FBI about this, and they called to ask about this. I don’t really want to get into who it was at this time.”

Meanwhile, Fox reported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that any Republican member could be charged criminally if they helped rioters.

“If, in fact, it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection — if they aided and abetted the crime, there may have to be actions taken beyond the Congress in terms of prosecution for that,” she said.

Her statement came after the House voted to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection” even though the mob had erupted at the Capitol before Trump was done with his rally speech. Further, constitutional experts have confirmed that his comments all were protected by the First Amendment.

George Washington University law professor and commentator Jonathan Turley, who has testified in multiple presidential impeachment hearings over the years, said the claims by Sherrill are “an unambiguous allegation of criminal conduct” leveled against members of Congress.

If her charges are true, he said, those other members “could be criminally charged and expelled from the House.”

But, he noted, if her charges are rhetorical, or end up unsubstantiated, “she could (and should) face a resolution of censure.”

Turley explained, “Once she names a member, she could also be the subject of a defamation action. This was a statement made off of the floor and not protected under the Speech and Debate Clause.”

He continued, “Censure or reprimand is not the only possible response if this allegation is found to be without basis. The standard for defamation for public figures and officials in the United States is the product of a decision decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be used to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press. The Court sought to create ‘breathing space’ for the media by articulating that standard that now applies to both public officials and public figures. In order to prevail, they must show actual knowledge or reckless disregard of the alleged falsity. Obviously, truth remains a defense. Under Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 352 (1974) and its progeny of cases, the Supreme Court has held that public figure status applies when someone ‘thrust[s] himself into the vortex of [the] public issue [and] engage[s] the public’s attention in an attempt to influence its outcome.'”

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