Heritage Foundation files House ethics complaint over congresswoman's "intentional defaming" of 2A witness

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

You may remember the incident in question, which happened a few weeks ago during a House committee hearing on gun violence. California congresswoman Katie Porter was questioning the Heritage Foundation’s Amy Swearer when she accused the attorney and Second Amendment advocate of perjuring herself during her testimony. The Democrat was so proud of herself that she ended up tweeting out a portion of their exchange afterwards.

Porter claims that during a 2019 hearing, Swearer testified that a bill to ban so-called assault weapons introduced by Rep. David Ciccilline would have turned people “into felons overnight,” despite the fact that the bill would have grandfathered in existing gun owners. As the Daily Signal (which is the Heritage Foundation’s news site) points out, however, Swearer wasn’t talking about Ciccillini’s proposed legislation when she made that comment.

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.”

You can read the ethics complaint for yourself here, which provides documentation to rebut Porter’s allegations of perjury, as well as laying out what’s happened to Swearer in the weeks since.

The fact that Rep. Porter accused Ms. Swearer of serious criminal conduct was evident not just to Members in the room who immediately objected, or to Ms. Swearer, who multiple times requested the opportunity to respond to the charge. It was clearly evident to countless members of the public who have since viewed the viral exchange, many of whom, as a direct result of Rep. Porter’s actions, felt confident in directing insulting posts about “perjury” to Ms. Swearer. In fact, more than a month after being public defamed in this manner, Ms. Swearer continues to receive comments and even physical mail from strangers repeating Porter’s clear accusation that she is a “perjurer.”

Rep. Porter is not a layman. She is a highly educated lawyer with multiple Ivy League degrees, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and clerked for a federal circuit court judge. She is a tenured law professor at the UC-Irvine School of Law. She knew what her words meant when she said them and knew what effect they would have on listeners. Her understanding of the serious nature of this accusation—and the fact that it would be legally actionable if said in a context not covered by the Speech and Debate Clause—is clear from the fact that she subsequently walked back the accusation, downgrading it to an assertion that Ms. Swearer merely “mischaracterized” a statute.

Nor should Rep. Porter be given the benefit of the doubt that the accusation was a mistake or a slip of the tongue, despite the fact that she made the assertion twice. An entire section of her Wikipedia page is dedicated to gloating over the national media attention she has received for her questioning of congressional witnesses. No, her accusation of perjury was perfectly in line with previous intentional conduct, of which she is evidently very proud.

I don’t know Katie Porter, but I’ve had the opportunity to talk with Amy Swearer on multiple occasions over the years and she’s always been open, forthright, honest, and accurate during our interviews. She’s a well respected attorney and voice for Second Amendment supporters, and in my opinion that’s precisely why the congresswoman tried to besmirch Swearer; to try to ruin her reputation and to impugn any future testimony she might provide to Congress.

As the ethics complaint notes, Swearer is unable to pursue any sort of civil remedy against Porter because the congresswoman’s statement is protected by the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, but the House Ethics Committee has a number of options to deal with her unethical treatment of a committee witness. Specifically, the Heritage Foundation would like to see the following outcomes:

• Reprimand or admonish Rep. Porter for reflecting discreditably on the House by knowingly and intentionally defaming a congressional witness, in clear abuse of the privileges outlined in the Speech and Debate Clause.

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

• Recommend that Rep. Porter’s accusation be stricken from the record.

• Recommend that Rep. 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 Ms. Swearer of a federal crime and should have chosen her words more carefully.

As the Daily Signal notes, so far Porter herself has shown no sign of apologizing, though in the most recent statement issued by her office her spokesman was careful not to use the “p” word.

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.

According to Swearer, while she was speaking in general about “assault weapons” bans and not specifically Ciccillini’s bill when she made the statement about people becoming felons overnight, that characterization does apply to the bill that Porter referred to in her verbal attack on the attorney.

And, as I was trying to explain to Porter before she cut me off, Cicilline’s bill— grandfather provision and all—nonetheless posed serious dangers to peaceable citizens and made it very likely that, as with Swalwell’s bill, many would quickly be turned into felons.

That bill’s two primary problems stemmed from vague wording that seemed poised to make anyone a felon for letting another person so much as handle their pistol-gripped firearm or standard capacity magazine.

The bill made it a felony to transfer the grandfathered firearm to ANY person without first going through a federal firearms licensee and having a background check conducted. The sole exceptions were for the (1) “temporary custody of the grandfathered semiautomatic assault weapon for purposes of examination or evaluation by a prospective transferee,” and (2) “temporary transfer of possession for the purpose of participating in target shooting in a licensed target facility or establish range if the [firearm] is, at all times, kept with the premises of the target facility or range.” Meanwhile, the “grandfathering” of magazines applied only to “possession,” and the law provided no means of legally transferring those magazines to the possession of another.

In other words, the moment any person other than the gun-owner takes physical possession of a grandfathered gun outside of the confines of a gun range without a background check, or takes physical possession of a gun with a standard capacity magazine under any context, multiple felonies have been committed. The moment that law would have gone into effect, countless Americans would have become felons in the literal blink of an eye, countless numbers of times every day. And they’d be felons based on nothing more than the temporary changed possession of a standard capacity magazine or gun with “scary looking features.

I’m glad to see the Heritage Foundation push back against Porter’s despicable smear, and I hope the House Ethics Committee will take this complaint seriously, though I have to admit I’m doubtful that the Democrats on the committee will allow that to happen, especially so close to the midterm elections. They won’t want to do anything that could hurt Porter’s chance at re-election, even if that means allowing her false accusations to go unchecked and unpunished.