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No, House Democrats’ impeachment video did not violate US House rules
If Your Time is short
• The House rule the article points to hasn’t been enacted yet.
• Senate rules, not House rules, govern impeachment proceedings.
• The proposed rule is primarily meant to address deep fakes or deceptive audio-visual distortions, like splicing together audio to make it appear that someone said something they didn’t. The impeachment video, which consists of documentary footage of the Jan. 6 riot, contains neither of those things.
To kick off the second trial of former President Donald Trump, Democratic House impeachment managers played a 13-minute compilation of videos taken during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building.
Shortly after, Star Political News, a conservative website, alleged that the video was heavily edited and that it therefore violated House rules against the dissemination of manipulated media.
"Manipulated Video used in House Impeachment Looks to Have VIOLATED House Rules," reads the headline of the article.
The House Rules govern the chamber's congressional proceedings. Under Article I of the Constitution, a two-thirds majority can vote to censure or expel a member who violates those rules.
As evidence of its claim, Star Political News cites a tweet by former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who asked whether the video violated House Rules.
"Go to page 34 of House Rules. Did the manipulated video violate the House Rules?" it reads.
We asked three experts on congressional procedure whether there was any violation. Their answer was a clear no.
"I cannot possibly see how (the video) violates the House rule Chaffetz is pointing to," said Josh Ryan, a professor of political science at Utah State University.
Here’s the section of the House Rules that Chaffetz highlighted in his tweet:
"DISSEMINATION OF MANIPULATED MEDIA.—The Committee on Ethics is directed to report to the House not later than December 31, 2021, any recommended amendments to the Code of Official Conduct, as well as any accompanying regulations, intended to address the circumstances and instances, if any, for which a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House may be subject to discipline for the dissemination by electronic means, including by social media, of any image, video, or audio file that has been distorted or manipulated with the intent to mislead the public."
In other words, this text dictates that the House Ethics Committee issue a report to the House by the end of 2021 recommending whether members and employees should be subject to discipline for knowingly distributing deceptively edited media, like deep fakes.
So the House "rule" that Chaffetz cited is not actually in force.
"The rule is a direction to Ethics, not a standard for ethical behavior," said Steven Smith, a professor of political science at Washington University, St. Louis.
Besides that, Donald R. Wolfensberger, a former Republican staff director of the House Rules Committee, cited three reasons why the House manager’s presentation wouldn’t run afoul of any House rule:
House Rules do not extend to the Senate chamber, which is governed by Senate rules, Wolfensberger said. In the case of the Senate impeachment trial, that would include the Senate impeachment rule and the special impeachment procedures adopted Feb. 9 by the Senate and enforced by its presiding officer.
Even if the rule were already in effect and applied to the House impeachment managers on the Senate floor, the burden of proving a violation would be steep. In particular, the Ethics Committee would have to determine that there was "intent to mislead" in the compilation, a tall order when all of the footage was undoctored video relevant to the proceeding.
In the case of this impeachment, House managers are charged with presenting evidence at the Senate trial in support of the article of impeachment adopted by the House. "Nothing could be more germane or relevant as evidence than video proof of the insurrection at the Capitol," Wolfensberger said.
Congressional representatives have been warned about spreading manipulated media before. On Jan. 28, 2020, House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, D-Fla., sent out an advisory memo, reminding representatives that "posting deep fakes or other audio-visual distortions intended to mislead the public may be in violation of the Code of Official Conduct."
The memo was sent out three weeks after Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., posted an image of former President Barack Obama doctored to show him shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The issue flared up again in August 2020 when Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., tweeted out a video that used manipulated footage of activist Ady Barkan to falsely accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of wanting to defund the police.
There is a difference between Scalise’s video, which was digitally altered to distort a person’s words, and the House Democrats’ impeachment video, which edited together documentary footage into a narrative.
Hany Farid, a computer science professor at University of California-Berkeley and a leading expert in digital forensics, told PolitiFact that he would not classify the House Democrats’ impeachment video as deceptively edited because it was presented "as a set of representative vignettes."
Some Republican politicians have objected to the fact that the impeachment video didn’t feature Trump telling his supporters to "peacefully and patriotically protest." But that omission doesn’t meet the same standard of deception as a deepfake.
"A deceptively edited video is one that purports to depict an event in its entirety, but the video has in fact been edited to remove or add content that significantly alters the video's meaning," he said. "For example, editing a speech saying ‘Let's peacefully take the Capitol,’ to say ‘Let's take the Capitol,’ by cutting or splicing a portion of the video."
One could argue that the edited impeachment video is incomplete, Farid said, but the exclusion of some parts of Trump’s speech does not make the video deceptive.
Star Political News wrote, "Manipulated Video used in House Impeachment Looks to Have VIOLATED House Rules."
The rule the article points to has not actually been enacted yet.
House Rules do not extend to the Senate chamber where the trial is happening. The Senate is governed by Senate rules.
Even if such a rule had been enacted, the video does not appear to violate it. The video consists of documentary footage edited into a single narrative. It does not contain audio-visual distortions or splice together words to make someone say something they didn’t say.
This is False.
117th Congress, House Rules
Star Political News, Manipulated video used in House Impeachment looks to have VIOLATED House Rules, Feb. 9, 2021
Jason Chaffetz, Tweet, Feb. 9, 2021
House Ethics Committee, Memorandum for all members, officers, and employees, Jan. 28, 2020
Lawfare, Members of the House are on notice: No tweeting deepfakes, Jan. 30, 2020
PolitiFact, House Republican’s video manipulates activist’s computerized voice to attack Biden, Aug. 31, 2020
Email interview with Donald R. Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Feb. 10, 2021
Email interview with Steven S. Smith, political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Feb. 10, 2021
Email interview with Josh Ryan, Utah State University political scientist, Feb. 10, 2021
Email interview with Hany Farid, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley, Feb. 10, 2021
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No, House Democrats’ impeachment video did not violate US House rules
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