The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) filed an ethics complaint against Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), accusing him of “abusing taxpayer dollars to spread disinformation” by sharing a doctored video of activist Ady Barkan asking Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden about redirecting some police funds to alternative programs.
The DCCC, which is the House Democrats’ campaign arm, alleged that the video shared by Scalise had been modified “in an attempt to deceive voters.” The video had been edited by adding the words “for police” at the end of the phrase, uttered by Barkan, “but do you agree that we can redirect some of the funding?”
Scalise, in sharing the since-deleted video on Twitter, added the caption: “No police. Mob rule. Total chaos. That’s the result of the Democrat agenda.” While he removed the video after Barkan complained that his words had been altered, Scalise maintained that the edited video was an accurate representation of the thrust of the conversation between Biden and the activist, which was explicitly about redirecting some funds from police.
In the original video, published by NowThis News, Barkan asked Biden about shifting funds from police to social services, mental health counseling, and affordable housing. He referred to this as part of a broader goal advanced by police reform activists to reduce the number of interactions between members of the community and law enforcement. When Biden responded by listing initiatives he supported, like doing away with no-knock warrants in drug cases and not supplying military surplus equipment to police, Barkan interjected, saying,”but do you agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” Biden replied, “Yes, absolutely.”
While it may be evident from the broader interaction between Biden and Barkan that adding the words “for police” did not alter the intent of the message, the DCCC accused Scalise of deception.
“Minority Whip Scalise used taxpayer resources to deceive voters. He needs to be held accountable for that,” DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn said in a statement.”Our elections are already under attacks from hostile nations and Republicans in their party’s leadership should be fighting disinformation in our elections, not actively spreading lies.”
Scalise spokesperson Lauren Fine told The Verge in an emailed statement that it was clear in the video that Barkan was asking if Biden supported redirecting some funding away from police.
“Obviously, for a one-minute Twitter video featuring several short clips, we condensed that to the essence of what he was asking, as is common practice for clips run on TV and social media, no matter the speaker; we paired the police portion with Barkan’s final question for clarity because we couldn’t include an entire 3-minute clip in a one minute montage,” Fine said. “We believe Biden’s position and answer is clear regardless: when asked twice, he says ‘yes’ he is open to redirecting funding away from the police, and that is clear in our video.”
In a tweet, Barkan asked Scalise to remove the video, saying, “you and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain.”
“These are not my words. I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts,” wrote Barkan, who suffers from ALS and speaks through a voice synthesizer. “You owe the entire disability community an apology,” he added.
Scalise removed the video as requested and acknowledged that it should not have been modified. His spokesperson denied Scalise broke any rules, telling The Hill that the ethics complaint against Scalise was “a shameless and baseless attempt by Democrats to distract from the fact their nominee answered in the affirmative twice on camera when asked if he was open to the redirection of some police funding.”
While President Donald Trump and Republicans have accused Biden of wanting to defund the police, the White House hopeful wrote in an op-ed in June that, “I do not support defunding the police,” although he prefaced this statement by saying, “I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort,” adding, “the better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.”
The complaint against Scalise was filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, which may then refer it to House Committee on Ethics if warranted.