U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene denies calling for violence ahead of Jan. 6 riot
Georgia lawmaker testifies in court amid effort to block re-election bid
Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told a Georgia judge hearing an effort to block her from the ballot in her re-election bid that she had urged people to join a "peaceful march" on Jan. 6, 2021, that turned into a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.
A group of voters has brought a novel legal challenge to Greene's re-election bid, arguing that the supporter of former president Donald Trump has violated a provision in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution known as the "Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause."
The clause, passed after the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s, prohibits politicians from running for Congress if they have engaged in "insurrection or rebellion" or "given aid or comfort" to the nation's enemies.
"I was asking people to come for a peaceful march, which everyone is entitled to do," Greene said. "I was not asking them to actively engage in violence."
Andrew Celli, a lawyer for the voters, cross-examined Greene, who occasionally did not recall past statements she had made that had been captured on video or audio — including urging Trump to impose martial law and a Facebook video she posted in which she called Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi treasonous, and pointed out that treason was "a crime punishable by death."
Greene at first denied making the statement about Pelosi, but then admitted to it under questioning by the Celli and the judge.
James Bopp, Greene's lawyer, argued that the statement was "hyperbole" and irrelevant to the case.
But Greene appeared perplexed when Celli asked if she advocates political violence against people with whom she disagrees.
"I don't think so," Greene replied. "I don't know how to answer that."
Friday's hearing ended without the judge issuing a ruling.
During media interviews, Greene has downplayed and justified the assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters in their failed bid to block congressional certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory. Greene this month said Democrats and journalists have pushed an "over-dramatization" of that day's events.
Celli played a clip of an interview Greene did Jan. 5, 2021, in which she said preventing the certification was "our 1776 moment" — an apparent reference to the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. When Celli asked if she was aware that some Trump supporters used that remark as a call to violence, Greene said that wasn't her intention and that she was talking about her plans to object to the certification of electoral votes.
"I was talking about the courage to object," she said.
Seeking re-election this year
Bopp argued during his opening remarks that removing her from the ballot would be both unfair to her and to voters in her conservative-leaning district.
"Fundamentally, First Amendment rights are at stake, not only the right to vote, as I've mentioned, or the right to run for office," Bopp said.
He called it a "political show trial" in his closing statement.
In Greene's defence, he then played a video she recorded after the Capitol had been breached in which she urged demonstrators to be peaceful.
But during Celli's cross-examination, she was unable to testify to any occasion between the 2020 election and Jan. 6 in which she urged those protesting the election outcome to be peaceful.
Greene is seeking re-election this year. The Republican primary is scheduled for May 24 and the general election on Nov. 8.
Absentee ballots will start to be mailed on April 25.
The voter challenge is being spearheaded by a group called Free Speech for People that advocates for campaign finance reform. Similar efforts from the group concerning Republican North Carolina congressman Madison Cawthorn and three Republican representatives from Arizona were denied by the courts.
Greene is expected to appeal any ruling that goes against her, and has already brought parallel litigation in U.S. federal court seeking to halt the administrative proceeding.
Georgia also site of Trump-related grand jury
The actions of Trump allies on or before Jan. 6 have come under scrutiny, with a congressional committee devoted to probe the Capitol riot expected to hold televised hearings sometime in May.
Late Thursday, Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, came under fire from his own party after an audio recording showed him saying that Trump should resign over the Capitol riot.
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The comments, which McCarthy had denied hours before the recording emerged, could undermine his widely known ambition to become House speaker next year if Republicans take control of the chamber in November's midterm elections, which many are predicting.
Trump's actions are also being examined by that House committee, while his communications with Georgia officials after the 2020 election will be subject to a special grand jury in that state, with testimony expected in June. Trump's phone call in early January 2021 with Georgia officials including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saw him beseech them to "find" votes that would allow him to surpass Biden.
In a statement Thursday, Trump incorrectly blamed Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, for allowing the challenge against Greene to proceed, saying she is "going through hell in their attempt to unseat her."
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press