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Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP) Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 8, 2022

GOP chair McDaniel’s false claim about ‘persecution’ and ‘legitimate political discourse’

If Your Time is short

  • Republicans who participated in a scheme to send fake slates of electors to Washington were not ordinary citizens. They were part of the Republican National Committee with official functions.

  • Investigating their participation is not persecution. It is within the legal scope of the committee’s role.

  • Ronna McDaniel’s original statement did not indicate she was talking specifically about Republican party members who were not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

On Feb. 5, the members of the Republican National Committee censured Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., for sitting on the House Select Committee investigating the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told the Washington Post that Cheney and Kinzinger were "not sticking up for hard-working Republicans."

"We've had two members engage in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse." McDaniel said Feb. 4.

McDaniel’s framing, which mirrored the words of the censure resolution, didn’t go down well with top Republican leaders.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, saw little value to his party by drawing attention to the events of Jan. 6.

"If we want to get our majorities in the fall, it’s better to turn our fire on Democrats, not each other," Thune said Feb. 7.

Soon after her statement became public, McDaniel recast her words to say they didn’t apply to people who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, but rather to party members who weren’t at the Capitol that day, yet were caught up in the Jan. 6 committee’s broader investigation.

Still, between the definition of the word "persecution," the people involved and the nature of the activities the committee is investigating, we found no grounds on which McDaniel’s statement holds up.

Censure targets participation on Jan. 6 committee

By the text of the resolution, Cheney’s and Kinzinger’s political sin is their participation on the Jan. 6 committee, which Republicans have opposed. 

The two lawmakers agreed to participate after a disagreement over the committee’s makeup resulted in the House GOP leader withdrawing all his nominees. 

This work, the resolution says, serves to "sabotage" Republican plans to take back the House and Senate.

The committee is examining many facets of that day that many Republicans would rather not revisit — not just the violent breach of the Capitol by armed supporters of former President Donald Trump, but also other extralegal efforts to disrupt and subvert the certification of Joe Biden’s election. For example, committee investigators are looking into the submission of uncertified — potentially fraudulent — slates of Trump electors in several states Trump lost. They’re also looking at Trump’s delayed response in calling off the rioters, and his role in inciting the attack in the first place (for which he was impeached before he left office).

McDaniel back-pedals and Republicans narrow the scope

The censure resolution’s reference to "legitimate political discourse" in the context of the violent Jan. 6 attack triggered an uproar, including from some conservatives.

Conservative columnist Quin Hillyer tweeted, "The ‘legitimate political discourse’ line from the RNC might be the single most self-damaging statement by a party committee in history." 

Twitter was flooded with video and photos of the violence that day that contrasted sharply with the notion of "legitimate political discourse."

In response, McDaniel sent a tweet to clarify what she said was the resolution’s intent.

"Cheney and Kinzinger chose to join Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol," McDaniel tweeted Feb. 4.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the language in the censure resolution described not the rioters, but others who played a more tangential role. Rubio accused the Jan. 6 committee of harassing an RNC member who was part of the plan to submit uncertified slates of Trump electors to Washington.

"She signed some papers," Rubio said. "She wasn't even in Washington on January 6." 

Where the resolution deviates from the facts

Even with that revision, McDaniel’s statement about "persecution of ordinary citizens" doesn’t hold up.

The Republicans said they were thinking of party members who have been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, specifically those who participated in the certification of the false electoral slates. But it’s a stretch to call these people "ordinary citizens." They were not merely disgruntled Trump supporters. They were members of a select group of loyal state party members who gained appointment to the Republican National Committee, the party’s leadership tier. They had an official role that rank-and-file Republicans did not enjoy. Every person subpoenaed was either labeled the chairperson or secretary of the slate of Trump electors.

The RNC says that didn’t make them less ordinary, and that they had no reason to believe that what they were doing was illegal. The RNC cites Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig to say there is legal precedent for what they did.

The activity they engaged in was part of a larger national plan by Trump and his lawyers to throw the results of the 2020 election into limbo, a plan that the majority of legal scholars say lacked a constitutional foundation. Criminal referrals are a possibility, not necessarily solely for the actions the Republican electors took, but for the underlying scheme, which went well beyond what the country has seen this century. That is on top of ongoing investigations by the Justice Department and a grand jury in Georgia that is looking at Trump’s efforts to reverse his loss there.

What the participants in this plot have faced from the Jan. 6 committee so far is subpoenas to answer questions. They have not been charged. That does not meet the definition of persecution, which is "unfair or cruel treatment over a long period of time because of race, religion, or political beliefs." 

The effort to use uncertified slates of electors as a means to cast doubt on results from seven states was integral to Trump’s plans to overturn the election, and asking the participants questions about it easily falls within the committee’s legal scope.

Our ruling

McDaniel said that Cheney and Kinzinger engaged "in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse."

McDaniel said her words applied not to the Capitol rioters but to others who were subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee to answer questions. 

But the people she had in mind weren’t ordinary citizens. They purported to be acting in an official capacity and participated in a national level scheme to overturn the 2020 election.

Investigating their actions isn’t persecution. It is part of finding the facts.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Business Insider, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel says January 6 committee is a 'Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse', Feb. 4, 2022

Washington Post, RNC votes to condemn Cheney, Kinzinger for serving on House committee investigating Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump mob, Feb. 4, 2022

Republican National Committee, Censure resolution, Feb. 4, 2022

Politico, Senate GOP backlash smacks RNC after Cheney-Kinzinger censure, Feb. 7, 2022

Quin Hillyer, tweet, Feb. 4, 2022

Daniel Drezner, tweet, Feb. 4, 2022

Ronna McDaniel, tweet, Feb. 4, 2022

Slate, Many Trump Electors Facing Criminal Referrals Were Just Following Precedent, Jan. 27, 2022

CBS News, Face the Nation, Feb. 6, 2022

ABC News, This Week, Feb. 6, 2022

NBC News, Meet the Press, Feb. 6, 2022

Lisa Murkowski, tweet, Feb. 5, 2022

PolitiFact, What you need to know about the fake Trump electors, Jan. 28, 2022

PolitiFact, How Democrats aim to define the lessons of Jan. 6, Jan. 5, 2022

Email exchange, Emma Vaughn, national press secretary, Republican National Committee, Feb. 7, 2022


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