Freshly cleared of violations by the chair of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Mark Finchem is now turning the tables on some of his accusers and political foes.
The Oro Valley Republican has filed his own complaint against 28 House Democrats and 14 Senate Democrats charging them with having conspired to punish him for exercising his First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and contest the legitimacy of the recent presidential election.” He contends that the decision of those Democrats to sign a letter asking the FBI and Department of Justice to look into his activities before and during the Jan. 6 demonstration in Washington and the insurrection that followed runs afoul of not only House ethics rules but also is libelous and violates federal law.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, told Capitol Media Services the Democrats were well within their rights — and had enough evidence, direct or circumstantial — to ask for a federal investigation. And she dismissed Finchem’s new complaint against them as “retribution” for their own complaint to the Ethics Committee.
That original complaint was dismissed last week by Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who chairs the committee. Nutt said the Democrats presented no evidence to back their charges that Finchem “supported the violent overthrow of our government” or that he directly participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
At best, Nutt said, the allegations against Finchem amount to his “advocacy of controversial political opinions.”
Finchem, through his attorney, also released what appears to be a partial record of his texts from that period. It starts with planning efforts for the a “Stop the Steal” rally in Phoenix and ends with Finchem, after attending the event outside the White House where he was supposed to speak and then ending up at the Capitol.
There is at least one text that suggests Finchem, in publicly describing his activities in Washington on Jan. 6, may have been less than forthcoming.
In a statement in the days following, Finchem said he was unaware until 5 p.m. that the Capitol had been breached.
Finchem has not denied going there, saying in a text he was “swept up” by the crowd.
But he also was aware there were plans to march on the Capitol — something not in the event permit — having been told in a text from activist Michael Coudry that was the plan all along to go there after the legal rally near the White House.
He later got a message from Coudry saying “They are storming the capital, I don’t think it safe.” That was followed up by a response from Finchem saying he was on the side of the Capitol facing the Supreme Court. “Is that the right side?”
But there is nothing in what his attorney released — or anywhere else so far discovered for that matter — showing that Finchem had breached the barriers around the Capitol or entered the building.
The heart of Finchem’s new complaint goes to the letter last month by the Democrats to federal officials saying that Finchem and now-former Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, were not only present in Washington but “actively encouraged the mob, both before and during the attack on the Capitol.” They also said the pair “sought to conceal the consequences of their conduct by falsely blaming Antifa.”
In the letter to the federal agencies, the Democrats said there is “evidence” that the two Arizona lawmakers, along with Arizona Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, “encouraged, facilitated, participated and possibly helped plan this anti-democratic insurrection on January 6.”
“It is vital to any current or future federal investigation, and ultimately to the Arizona public they represent, that we learn what these elected officials knew about this planned insurrection and when they knew it,” the Democrats wrote.
Finchem, in his ethics complaint against the Democrats, called them “tyrants” for contending that his activities in questioning the outcome of the election were criminal.
“Their tactics are repugnant to our foundational belief in open and robust debate, and as such smack of the very tyranny that, only a few decades ago, we spent so much blood and treasure to defeat,” he wrote.
“What are they so afraid of that they and their allies in the media deem it necessary to remove any question of election integrity from the table of legitimate discourse?” Finchem continued. “Do they hope that shutting people up will make the controversy go away?”
He contends several things make all this a violation of House rules.
First, the letter went out on a letterhead of the “Arizona State Legislature” with the state seal, making it look like an official act of the legislature, which it was not.
More to the point, Finchem says the letter “was replete with material factual misrepresentations that were unsupported by evidence and known to be false by the House and Senate members at the time of issuance.”
Finchem said he released a statement on Jan. 11 detailing what he had and had not done in Washington. That included he went there to attend and speak at the rally, that he never came within 500 yards of the Capitol, that he did not see any activity about the building being breached and didn’t learn about that until just before 5 p.m. that evening.
Yet it was the very next day that the Democrats asked for a federal investigation.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that I engaged in any activity that could be objectively viewed as sedition, treason or any federal crime,” Finchem wrote. “The implication that I have, or every possibly have, is entirely baseless.”
He said the activities of the Democrats are within the purview of the House and Senate ethics committees to investigate. That includes his contention that the letter to the federal agencies “was issued in bad faith for political purposes, and not out of a legitimate, well-founded belief that I had engaged in any criminal activity of any nature.”
And Finchem said that conclusion is supported by the fact that a copy of the complaint was released to the media at the same time the complaint was filed.
He also said if the committee needs a specific criminal charge against the Democrats they can look to a section of federal law which makes it illegal for government officials to make a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.”
Salman, who has been at the forefront of the Democrats efforts to get an investigation of Finchem, said the new complaint won’t deter them from their demands for further inquiry.
“The member was involved in inciting a rebellion against the government which is not only a violation of the oath of office that he took but a violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” she said.
Salman does not dispute that the initial rally near the White House was legal. But she contends that what happened next can be tied to Finchem.
“The people who stormed the Capitol with the intention of not only overthrowing the election results but with the intention with also killing national and federal elected officials were doing so on the basis of falsehoods and conspiracies that were laid out by the president all the way down to local lawmakers in the days following the general election,” she said. And Salman contends that, absent those statements, the riot never would have occurred.
But Finchem, in his own complaint against the Democrats, pointed out that he is hardly the only one who questions the results of the election. He said that does not make him — or them — liable for “rogue actors” who chose to invade the Capitol.
“He’s not an innocent actor,” Salman responded.
“The First Amendment protects you from the speech that comes out of your mouth,” she said. “But it doesn’t protect you from the consequences of your actions.”
In a separate development, Finchem is asking supporters for money for what he said is $15,000 in debt he incurred in organizing the faux legislative hearing at a Phoenix hotel in late November to have a handful of GOP lawmakers hear Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani present what he said was evidence of fraud in the Arizona election returns. He is using his Gab account — a conservative alternative to Twitter — to request money be spent to a PayPal account.
The Trump campaign already has reported it paid a firm owned by Finchem $6,037 for “recount: legal services.” Finchem has said he used it to pay for the costs of security for that hearing.
The lone Democrat not cited in Finchem’s new complaint is Rep. Aaron Lieberman of Paradise Valley.
He was not around and did not sign the original complaint to federal officials. But Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the House Democrats, said he signed an updated complaint a day later.