A fiery Marjorie Taylor Greene fights court challenge on her candidacy

Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene gave fiery testimony on the witness stand Friday to fight a legal challenge filed by a group of her constituents who want her banned from seeking office over the role she may have played in last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In a series of testy exchanges, Greene responded to questions posed by an attorney for the challengers saying she didn’t remember many of her remarks or actions leading up to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. The Rome Republican disputed video clips and news articles documenting her statements, dismissing them as manipulated by the “biased” media.

And though she acknowledged she promoted the rally that day supporting Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, she said she never encouraged — or participated in — the riot that sought to block the formal vote to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

“I was scared. I was very scared. I was concerned. I was shocked, shocked, shocked, absolutely shocked,” Greene said of her emotions the day of the Capitol attack.

The court hearing, held before a packed audience of journalists and Greene’s supporters, drew intense attention in part because the Republican is the first member of Congress to testify publicly and under oath about the buildup to the riot.

At issue was a challenge filed by five of Greene’s constituents that contends the first-term lawmaker violated a provision of the 14th Amendment by engaging in an insurrection to block the peaceful transfer of power.

The challengers’ attorney, Andrew Celli, pressed her throughout the proceeding on her online activity and public remarks urging Trump supporters to gather outside the Capitol as lawmakers prepared to confirm Biden’s win.

Often, she responded by saying, “I don’t remember.” The challengers’ attorneys told the judge they would treat her as a hostile witness. Her attorneys, meanwhile, framed the challenge as a stunt to deprive her North Georgia constituents of a choice at the ballot box.

“The right to vote is at stake, right here, right now,” Greene attorney James Bopp said. “Because they want to deny the right to vote to the thousands of people in the 14th District of Georgia by having Greene removed from the ballot.”

The challengers’ case, meanwhile, revolved around Greene’s frequent mention of Jan. 6 as a “1776 moment.” Attorney Ron Fein said the phrase, a reference to the Revolutionary War, doubled as a code word for a violent insurrection to Trump supporters.

“Instead, it turned out to be our 1861 moment,” Fein, the legal director of Free Speech For People, said in a nod to the beginning of the Civil War.

Administrative Judge Charles Beaudrot expressed skepticism about the challengers’ legal argument. At one point, he warned one of the attorneys that he was “pushing the envelope” while bringing up Greene’s past incidents; in another, he abruptly cut off a line of questioning.

“She said she does not recall,” Beaudrot said. “That is the answer. Now move on.”

‘Just asking questions’

During the proceeding, Greene acknowledged she promoted the pro-Trump rally that preceded the riot. But she said she opposed the mob’s storming of the building.

Instead, she cast herself as a devoted Trump supporter who used rhetoric about the “1776 moment” to signify her support for “patriots” — and not as a call for an insurrection. When asked whether she or her aides gave tours of the Capitol complex to the mob’s organizers, she chuckled.

“We got our keys to our office on Jan. 3,” she said. “I couldn’t even find the bathroom most of the time.”

She testified that she couldn’t recall a number of incendiary social media posts and conversations, including whether she urged Trump to impose martial law to remain in power.

That prompted Celli to ask: “So you’re not denying you did it?”

Greene replied: “I don’t remember.”

The legal hearing put Greene, used to the rhythm of political rallies and stump speeches, in a starkly different role. When the congresswoman tried to use one question about her social media activity to criticize House Democrats, Celli admonished her to simply answer his query.

In another exchange, Celli asked her about a tweet she sent urging demonstrators to appear at the Capitol.

“You’re speculating on why I’m tweeting that,” she said.

“Ms. Greene, I’m just asking questions,” he responded.

“And I’m just answering them,” she fired back.

When attorneys for the challengers played video clips of Greene’s remarks, she often accused them of being “spliced” or unfavorably edited.

At the heart of Greene’s defense was her assertion under oath that she hasn’t condoned violence on social media.

“I never mean anything for violence,” she said. “None of my words, never ever, mean anything for violence.”

But that runs counter to a background that includes racist, xenophobic and antisemitic remarks.

Before she was elected, Greene endorsed posts that called for the execution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She also liked Facebook comments about executing law enforcement agents who were in the “deep state.”

And since she took office, she had confrontations with Democratic House members, including Reps. Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who both described the encounters as harassment.

Celli said Greene’s record was part of a pattern of behavior that “gathered the kindling, created the conditions” for the deadly mob.

“And then she dropped a match,” he said. “And now she comes into this courtroom and says she’s surprised and appalled that a fire occurred.”

Intense scrutiny

The legal proceedings were a magnet for the media. More than a dozen TV reporters gathered outside the downtown Atlanta tower where the state administrative courtroom is housed, using busy Peachtree Street as a backdrop for live reports.

Inside the courtroom, Greene supporters erupted into applause as she entered with her attorneys, triggering a stern rebuke from a deputy.

The challenge to Greene’s eligibility is similar to cases filed against four other lawmakers in Arizona and North Carolina, all citing a provision in the 14th Amendment that bars members of Congress from serving if they participated in an insurrection or rebellion against the government.

Greene’s case, however, is so far the only one that has been allowed to advance to an evidentiary hearing, though legal experts say the challengers are unlikely to prevail.

Beaudrot won’t get the final say. He must deliver his findings to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who will determine whether Greene is qualified to appear on the ballot.

It will put Raffensperger, who is facing a Trump-backed Republican challenger, in a peculiar spot. He attracted Trump’s fury after he refused the then-president’s demand to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory.

Greene has used the legal challenge to fuel new fundraising appeals that cast her as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

In closing arguments, Bopp said the day’s court proceedings were little more than a “political show trial” and said the nation’s democracy “can’t survive” more legal challenges like this one.

“We have got to put a stop to this,” he said, “and this is where it should happen.”