Heritage Files Ethics Complaint Against Lawmaker for Smearing Witness

Heritage Files Ethics Complaint Against Lawmaker for Smearing Witness


The Heritage Foundation filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who last month accused a Second Amendment expert with the Washington-based think tank of lying to Congress about the contents of firearms legislation. 

In the complaint filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts accuses Porter of “knowingly and intentionally defaming” Amy Swearer, a legal fellow in Heritage’s Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. (The Daily Signal is the multimedia news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.) 

Swearer testified during a June 8 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where Porter accused her of lying to Congress in previous testimony in 2019. 

“Amy Swearer is one of the brightest, most influential Second Amendment scholars in this country. She is also a forthright and honest patriot who believes in the Constitution,” Roberts said in a public statement. “Rep. Porter’s behavior toward her was emblematic of what Washington has become—unserious and unscrupulous individuals more interested in viral moments and social media clout than honest policy discussions and problem-solving.” 

Soon after the original incident, Porter posted a video on social media depicting a portion of her tense exchange with Swearer, a regular contributor to The Daily Signal.

In the tweet accompanying the video, Porter’s boasted: “Special interests are lying to the American people to block gun violence prevention legislation. The same witness who misled Congress in 2019 is back today to advocate against sensible measures that would keep Americans safe. I called out her BS.”

Elected to a second term in 2020, Porter, a law professor, is the first Democrat to represent California’s 45th Congressional District, which includes part of conservative Orange County.

Heritage’s ethics complaint contends that Porter “grossly abused her privileges under the [Constitution’s] Speech and Debate Clause to publicly slander Ms. Swearer with impunity, affording her no recourse or ability to defend herself and her reputation.” 

The complaint also asserts that Porter’s “unethical conduct” is a discredit to the House and “undermines the integrity of its proceedings.”

Heritage’s complaint asks the Office of Congressional Ethics to:

—Consider a formal reprimand and admonishment of Porter “for knowingly and intentionally defaming a congressional witness.”

—Remind “all members of Congress that while they may disagree with a witness’s testimony, they have a duty to refrain from, at the very least, falsely accusing them of perjury for political gain.”

—Recommend that Porter’s accusation “be stricken from the record.” 

—Recommend that Porter “either apologize for falsely accusing a witness of perjury when she knew it to be false, or publicly clarify that she did not intend to accuse Swearer of a federal crime and should have chosen her words more carefully.”

Porter doesn’t appear likely to apologize or clarify her remarks, however. Her spokesman, Jordan Wong, doubled down in a written statement that refers to the 2019 House hearing. 

“Like Mr. Roberts, Congresswoman Porter believes that policy debates are part of healthy democracy. To have those debates, we must have shared facts,” Wong said, adding:

And the facts here are clear: Ms. Swearer’s claim that gun violence prevention legislation would make Americans ‘become felons overnight’ is misleading and unsubstantiated. She should not have given that testimony, under oath, to Congress.

Heritage’s complaint notes that in January 2020, the House Ethics Committee published a memorandum warning that lawmakers and staffers should not share “deepfakes” or “intentional distortions of audio or visual representations.” The memo also said that sharing such information “could erode public trust [or] affect public discourse.”

In his statement, Roberts noted that Congress works for the people of the United States. 

“Members of Congress like Katie Porter need to be reminded whom they serve, and put back in their place when they overstep,” Roberts said. “If Ms. Porter is interested in an authentic conversation about Second Amendment rights and the intricacies of various firearm legislation, we are more than willing to help educate her.”

At the time of the 2019 hearing cited by Porter, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., was sponsoring a bill to ban semiautomatic rifles that included a grandfather clause that would allow existing owners of such guns to keep them. 

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questioned Swearer during that hearing about “guns Democrats want to ban,” asking: “Do you think law-abiding people will be less safe to protect themselves, their family, their property, if this law that the Democrats are proposing actually happens, or this bill that the Democrats are proposing actually becomes law?”

Swearer replied to Jordan:  “I think worse than that, sir. You will see millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens become felons overnight for nothing more than having scary-looking features on firearms.”

After the June 8 hearing, Swearer wrote in a commentary for National Review published June 13 that Jordan included “a series of general questions about” gun features that Democrats wanted to ban. 

The Heritage legal fellow said the Ohio Republican did not reference “any particular bill or bills by name” when asking whether law-abiding citizens would be “less safe to protect themselves.”

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.