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Her critics say she fomented the January 6 insurrection, but Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene can’t remember much about it.
The congresswoman who prides herself on being a provocateur used variations of that theme – “I don’t recall” – more than 50 times during testimony in a Georgia courtroom last week.
The hearing about whether to disqualify her from seeking reelection took place on Friday – before CNN published text messages on Monday in which Greene, in the weeks after Election Day 2020, suggested to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that then-President Donald Trump could declare martial law to change the results of the presidential election.
Amnesia about January 2021 is in the air. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was caught in a lie, or an epic bout of forgetfulness, when he said last week he never considered calling on Trump to resign – before reporters for the New York Times produced audio of him doing just that.
There’s a big difference between lying, which isn’t illegal, and lying under oath, which can be illegal. And there’s a very open question about whether a lawmaker who rejected US democracy should get to work in the US government.
The long-shot bid to remove Greene from the ballot is an unprecedented attempt to exclude someone from office and could be a trial run for an effort against Trump, who is primed to try to get his old job back.
Here’s what to know about the attempt to hold Greene accountable for her alleged role in the January 6 insurrection:
Has Greene been charged with a crime?
No. Greene hasn’t been charged with any crime and she denies doing anything other than calling for peaceful protest on January 6, 2021. There’s not any indication she’s under criminal investigation.
In fact, despite hundreds of cases stemming from the insurrection, federal authorities haven’t charged any public officials with violating the insurrection portion of US law, which would also ban a person from holding public office.
Why was Greene in court last week?
The challenge to Greene’s candidacy was initiated by a group of Georgia voters who are working with liberal activists and constitutional scholars.
Why would Greene be disqualified from holding office?
There is a provision of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that bars officeholders who take part in or assist an insurrection from ever holding office again.
The Georgia voters and liberal-leaning activist groups are using that provision to try to disqualify Greene from holding public office at the state or federal level in the future.
What exactly does the relevant portion of the 14th Amendment say?
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is quite short, but not very simple. Here’s what it says:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Has anyone ever been disqualified from holding office under this provision?
Yes. But not in a very long time.
The provision was passed to bar Confederates who had abandoned their oath to the US Constitution from government positions. That ban didn’t last long, however.
A blanket amnesty for former Confederates was passed in 1872, making the vast majority of the rebels again eligible for office. In 1898, it was removed for the last few hundred former Southern congressmen and senators. It was even symbolically removed for chief Confederates Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee with votes in Congress in the 1970s, even though both men had been dead for many decades.
Do Greene’s opponents say she took part in the insurrection?
Greene was in the House and among the lawmakers who were evacuated when the Capitol was breached on January 6, 2021. She is not among the approximately 800 people who have been charged with taking part in the storming of the building.
Rather, the group challenging Greene’s candidacy says she helped inspire the insurrection and encouraged it.
How do her opponents say she encouraged the insurrection?
Here’s what the attorney Andrew G. Celli Jr., who questioned Greene in court, said on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday:
On January 5th, the day before the insurrection, Congresswoman Greene told her followers on her Facebook page, on a national broadcast, that tomorrow is 1776. Now, that’s the kind of rhetoric … where people understood that 1776 was code for break into the Capitol, do violence, and most importantly, block the certification of Joe Biden. That is an act of insurrection. We demonstrated … and proved that.
What is Greene’s response?
In her testimony last week, Greene said that in referring to 1776, she was talking about “the courage to object” to the counting of electoral votes.
Greene denied knowledge of any scheme to disrupt the electoral vote count in Congress and said she didn’t know key players who organized the rally that preceded the congressional breach.
She also fiercely rebuked any suggestions that violence was what she had in mind as she called for protests and objections to Congress’ certification of Biden’s win.
What can’t Greene remember?
CNN’s Marshall Cohen rounded up some of the larger things – extremely pertinent details – to slip Greene’s mind:
She said she didn’t remember saying she opposed the peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden – right before lawyers for the challengers played a video of her saying just that. She denied calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “traitor” who might deserve the death penalty, but backtracked and acknowledged the comment when the challengers started to play the footage.
Who decides if Greene should be disqualified?
State Judge Charles Beaudrot, who presided over the hearing in Georgia, will make a recommendation within the next few weeks and then Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will make the decision. Appeals are likely.
“There will be court appeals. This will go to the Georgia Supreme Court ultimately,” Celli said.
Aren’t we getting close to Georgia’s primary?
Yes, we are. Ballots have been printed and it’s scheduled for May 24.
In the event Greene was disqualified from the ballot, local officials would have to communicate to voters and post notices at polling places that votes for Greene would not be counted, according to Cohen’s report.
Do any other lawmakers face an effort like this?
There was a similar effort against Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina, but a federal judge shut it down.
If the effort is successful against Greene, there’s a school of thought it could be used against Trump in 2024.
What’s the argument against this type of maneuver?
One basic principle of democracy is that voters should get to choose their leaders. The hard question is whether they should get to choose a leader who rejected the outcome of democracy in 2020.
Greene’s lawyers have also argued that the disqualification hearing was inherently unfair and that the challengers were trampling on her free-speech rights.
Hasn’t Greene already been ostracized?
Sort of. Lawmakers refused to allow her to sit on committees because of controversial statements she’s made, although only a handful of Republicans voted against her.
Greene continues to be popular with the hard right of the party. And there are indications the party is moving toward her. She’s traveling with McCarthy to the border with Mexico this week to raise the alarm about Biden’s immigration policy.
What are voters going to have to say about all of this?
This is the strange state of the US political scene, where those searching for accountability for the Capitol insurrection continue to run into roadblocks while Republican leaders, in their effort to move on, are eying big gains if frustrated voters turn on Democrats in November.