Dem Rep. Porter hit with ethics complaint following false accusation of perjury against conservative witness during hearing

Many members of Congress use committee hearings to grandstand in order to make a substantial point or garner attention, and sometimes those grandstanding moments go too far and cross the line of acceptable ethical behavior for an elected representative of the people.

That appears to be the case for Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who has been hit with an ethics complaint after allegedly falsely accusing a witness of perjury during a hearing in June, the Washington Examiner reported.

Porter twice accused witness Amy Swearer, a legal expert for the conservative Heritage Foundation, of having “falsely testified under oath” during testimony delivered at a House committee hearing on gun control in 2019, which would essentially equate to a criminal charge of perjury.

The attempted “gotcha” moment that included a false accusation

The accusation from Rep. Porter against Swearer came during a June 8 hearing for the House Oversight and Reform Committee following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, when Porter referenced testimony Swearer had given in response to a question from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in 2019 about proposed bans on so-called “assault weapons” at that time.

Porter recalled how Swearer had said that a proposed ban would make otherwise law-abiding gun owners “felons overnight” for merely possessing ordinary semi-automatic rifles with “scary-looking features.”

The congresswoman then attempted to play “gotcha” with Swearer by pointing out that a bill discussed in that 2019 hearing had a “grandfather” clause that would allow gun owners to maintain possession of banned weapons that were already owned and twice accused the witness of having “falsely testified under oath” to the contrary. Porter then refused to allow the aggrieved Swearer to respond to that serious charge and reclaimed her time.

Violation of House ethics rules

In the ethics complaint, the Heritage Foundation accused Rep. Porter of violating House Ethics Rule XXIII, clause 1, by “knowingly and intentionally defaming” Swearer with a false accusation of perjury.

“This accusation of perjury lacked any reasonable basis in fact, did not constitute fair comment, and amounted to defamation per se. Rep. Porter grossly abused her privileges under the Speech and Debate Clause to publicly slander Ms. Swearer with impunity, affording her no recourse or ability to defend herself and her reputation. Such unethical conduct reflects discreditably on the House and undermines the integrity of its proceedings,” the complaint stated.

The complaint went on to detail how Porter knew or should have known the seriousness of her accusation, explained how Swearer had simply delivered her opinion about the potential impact of gun bans, and how other members had been reprimanded for similar misconduct in the past. Ultimately, the complaint asked the House Ethics Committee to similarly reprimand Porter, strike the false accusations from the record, compel Porter to apologize for or clarify her statements, and remind other members to refrain from making false accusations.

Dueling statements

“Rep. Porter’s behavior toward [Swearer] 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. That’s why we’re filing this complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, said in a statement. “Members of Congress like Katie Porter need to be reminded whom they serve, and put back in their place when they overstep. 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.”

In response to the complaint, a spokesperson for Porter told the Examiner, “Like Mr. Roberts, Congresswoman Porter believes that policy debates are part of a healthy democracy. To have those debates, we must have shared facts,” and added, “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.”

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