In Georgia’s closely watched congressional special election to succeed Republican Tom Price in the U.S. House, Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has touted his policy experience in national security — and taken heat for allegedly embellishing it.
A news release announcing his campaign on Jan. 5 reads: “A Georgia native who grew up in the Sixth District, Ossoff served Georgia as a national security staffer in Congress for five years before leaving government for the private sector.”
Ossoff, 30, continued to emphasize his experience on the campaign trail. However, opponents noted he had worked on Capitol Hill between 2007 and 2012 but had only earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in 2009. That would make him a pretty junior staffer to be touting his national security experience.
Ossoff did work as a congressional staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., five years, starting as a part-time legislative correspondent, working 25-30 hours a week for two years while while attending Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He spent the summer of 2009 traveling, returned to work as a legislative assistant that August, ran Johnson’s re-election campaign from April to July 2010, then came back to Johnson’s Capitol office and received a top-secret security clearance in March 2012 for work related to the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
The primary job of a legislative correspondent is to answer mail from the lawmaker’s constituents and to backfill for more senior office staffers when necessary. Ossoff’s former supervisors, however, maintain he had substantially more responsibility than a typical legislative correspondent.
Daraka Satcher, Johnson’s chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, said he and the congressman recognized that Ossoff, with his foreign-service school background, was precocious. “Putting just any college student in that situation would be malpractice, but honestly, Jon was not a typical college student,” Satcher said. “He handled the issues, so we felt very comfortable” with the unusual arrangement.
Johnson backed up Satcher’s description. “I had no military assets in my district and was not a military guy,” Johnson told PolitiFact, “Jon’s level of information on the issue was much deeper than mine at that time. While he was a legislative correspondent, he was learning how to be a legislative assistant.”
Johnson’s office added that Ossoff played a key role in the House’s June 18, 2007, passage of a nonbinding resolution about the civil war in northern Uganda, just a few months after Ossoff joined the office.
Johnson said Ossoff also handled some more mundane duties, such as some information technology assignments. Still, he added, “to say that Jon staffed me on national security, that’s entirely, 100 percent correct.”
Norman Ornstein, a longtime Congress-watcher at the American Enterprise Institute, said Ossoff’s statement amounts to “resume inflation,” though, in his opinion, it’s a “rather benign” example.
A better phrasing, Ornstein said, would have been that he spent “five years as a staffer in the U.S. Congress, including work on national security.”
Ossoff said, “I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress.”
This description certainly applies to his final three years on Capitol Hill, which were spent in middle- to senior-level foreign policy posts. Whether it applies to his first two years working for the lawmaker is less clear-cut.
Ossoff at the time was an undergraduate student holding a part-time position that, in the Capitol Hill pecking order, was entry-level. That adds relevant context, and he left it out.
We rate the statement Half True.
“I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress.”
— Jon Ossoff on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 in a campaign appearance