I SAW THE SIEGE: ‘We Were Outnumbered’ On Capitol Hill, Says Congressional Aide

I SAW THE SIEGE: ‘We Were Outnumbered’ On Capitol Hill, Says Congressional Aide

During Black History Month, Zenger News presents “I Saw the Siege,” a series of on-camera interviews with African-American eyewitnesses to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.


“I say a prayer every time I go to work and close that door” following the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, says a congressional aide who watched it play out in person. Going to work today, he says, is “my own form of PSTD.”

Michael J. McQuerry tells Zenger News that American democracy had a close call when protesters loyal to then-President Donald J. Trump smashed windows, burst through doorways and briefly occupied the nation’s legislative hive.

“I have to make sure we get across what happened, the gravity of it,” he says. “I was there. I saw that. This is serious. We came this close to maybe losing the country. We can’t come that close again.”

COVID-19 pandemic precautions had left the Capitol mostly empty, says McQuerry, putting few people in harm’s way but also leaving most of the building undefended. “You have to realize, on a regular day that complex would have had 10,000 to 15,000 people in it,” he tells Zenger, “but because we were going through the pandemic you might have had 300 to 400 people at that time, who experienced that.”

Michael McQuerry grew up in a tough Detroit neighborhood and saw violence firsthand when he moved to Washington. “After 27 years on Capitol Hill he is considered an elder statesman among his colleagues,” said Andre Johnson.  (Allison Itz/Zenger News)

“If you add that to Capitol police, and the number of people that came in, we were outnumbered,” he says.

McQuerry is a respected staffer currently working for Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-V.I.). (plaskett.house.gov)

McQuerry and his boss Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI) both planned to be in the House of Representatives chamber for the reading of Electoral College votes, the final step in certifying the election victory of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Plaskett is a nonvoting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands but still a House member. McQuerry planned to be in the gallery, social distancing but watching history play out. History had other ideas; he says he feared he would be “squashed.”

Even from the center of the bullseye, McQuerry couldn’t appreciate the urgency of the situation he was in. “I did not go to work that day thinking that an insurrection was going to happen. Who does? So we went to work,” he says.

“And we didn’t really get to see how bad, and how much danger we were facing until two days later, when all the videos came out and you saw people breaking the glass and doing things you could not imagine.”

McQuerry says, “I had never seen violence like that” and the U.S. Capitol attack “was a first for me. Let’s hope I never see it again.”  (Claire Swift/Zenger News)

A Detroit native, McQuerry says he thinks about how easily he could have become a casualty — inside the Capitol, not on the streets where he grew up. “I appreciate being alive,” he says, “because I could have been at the wrong place at the wrong time as easily not be sitting here talking to you.”

McQuerry has worked in Congress for 27 years, and knows every nook and stairwell. He thinks about Eugene Goodman, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who led the mob away from an open Senate chamber door. He took what he called “a symbolic walk” in those hallways before speaking with Zenger News.

From left, Congressional staffer Michael McQuerry,  Andre Johnson of Zenger News and Congressional staffer Jabir McKnight, all members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, perform the Kappa Diamond salute. The four points of the diamond represent God, family, fraternity and community. Achievement in every field of human endeavor is their motto.  (Allison Itz/Zenger News)

“I took that walk over here from the side of the Senate floor where the police, the Capitol Police Officer, directed them another direction,” he says.

“I took that same walk that he took. And I just wanted to, you know, just to think about what was three weeks prior — the hatred that was in that building, in that dome, in a place that was built by African-American slaves.”

(Edited by David Martosko and Kristen Butler. Visuals Produced by Claire Swift/Jorge Diaz/Allison Itz. Video Editor: Ralph Quattrucci. Director of Photography: Tim Murray.) 

 

Click here to see the complete interview with Mr. McQuerry.



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‘More subtle, more pernicious, more complex’: Justice Department Warns About China Election Efforts

‘More subtle, more pernicious, more complex’: Justice Department Warns About China Election Efforts

Americans may fall prey to China’s attempts to influence U.S. policy without even knowing it.

China’s efforts can be harder to detect than other U.S. adversaries attempts to disrupt American politics, a top U.S. Department of Justice official said Wednesday.

“Beijing’s methods are not always as blatant” as they used to be, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. “The [People’s Republic of China] tactics are more subtle, more pernicious, more complex.”

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen official portrait. (U.S. Department of Justice photo)

“Beijing, for example, works relentlessly to co-opt seemingly independent middle men who can influence members of Congress on a host of policies,” he said at a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

In general, malign foreign influence can take the form of disguised propaganda, pressuring people in power and hacking email accounts or phones.

The reliance on internet-based communication has created significant vulnerabilities for influence operations to be carried out and for their reach to be maximized, Rosen said.

“The internet, social media allow foreign actors to reach unprecedented numbers of Americans covertly, inexpensively and directly, without necessarily having to go through the traditional media, without even having to set foot on U.S. soil,” he said.

The Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency used this tactic to interfere in the 2016 election by sowing discord online, according to a 2018 indictment.

Before the U.S. shut down China’s consulate in Houston, it was the forefront of covert foreign influence, John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said earlier this month. Demers declined to give more details about the covert influence, indicating that the information was classified.

Other top national security officials have also warned about foreign influence efforts in the American political process by China, Russia and Iran.

China has “been expanding its influence efforts” in the U.S. ahead of the 2020 presidential election, William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in an Aug. 7 statement.

“China prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection,” Evanina said.

 

Evanina did not allege China was attempting to hack the vote but said the country is working “to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.”

Iran is also seeking to undermine Trump and divide Americans before the 2020 elections because of the Trump administration’s pressure on Iran over its nuclear weapons program, he said.

Russia remains a threat, Evanina said, and is trying to “denigrate” Biden and “boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

(Edited by Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)

 



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India Goes Wild for Kamala’s Family Roots

India Goes Wild for Kamala’s Family Roots

Residents in Sen. Kamala Harris’ ancestral village haven’t seen her in years, but they are praying for her victory by sacrificing coconuts in Hindu temples. Others are pasting up posters or cheering the vice-presidential hopeful on social media.

In Tamil Naidu, she would win overwhelmingly among her landsmen.

Residents see her as America’s first Indian-American nominated for national office, not so much as the first African-American or the latest woman to be nominated for the vice presidency.

 

“In India, people who put up posters for Harris are breaking coconuts in temples,” said Harris’s uncle, Balachandran Gopalan. A New Delhi-based academic, Gopalan explained that breaking coconuts is a form of ritualistic worship for Hindus, especially those from south India. “I have also done the same,” he added. When his niece was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in 2017 by Joe Biden, he attended the ceremony.

Colorful posters wishing Harris victory are on display throughout her grandfather’s ancestral village, Painganadu Thusalendrapuram, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The poster went viral after Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, posted it on Twitter. “This is from Tamil Nadu, where our Indian family is from,” she wrote. “It says: ‘PV Gopalan’s granddaughter is victorious.’”

Today Harris has few living relatives in her home state besides an aunt, Dr. Sarala Gopalan, who lives in Chennai, the state’s capital. Still, the candidate’s campaign is eager for Harris to be seen as Indian American. In her Democratic National Convention speech, she spoke about her chithis (“aunts” in Tamil). While Americans had to google what it meant, the Tamil-speaking world was elated to hear a word in their mother tongue from the vice presidential nominee.

The villagers Zenger interviewed in Painganadu Thusalendrapuram—including those who were hanging posters—knew of the candidate more from the American news than from any living connection. But for the 2020 elections, the Democratic Party is going all-out to win the Indian vote and is using Kamala Harris’s roots as its calling card.

The Asian Indian population in the U.S. increased from 396,000 in 1980 to over 2.7 million in 2010, according to the website Statista. The group is one of the fastest-growing ethnicities in America, and with high levels of education and financial status, Asian Indians are gaining political clout. In matters of American foreign policy, India has become an important player, both as a venue for American business interests and as a strategic counterweight to China’s strength. As a result, there have been clear attempts to woo Indians’ support from Democrats and Republicans.

During the 2016 general elections, the Hindu American Foundation and the Republican Hindu Coalition threw their weight behind the Trump campaign. In return, Trump repeatedly promised Indians in general and Hindus in particular his support should he become president.

Mimicking Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan “Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar” (“This time a Modi government”), a 2016 video of Donald Trump proclaiming Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar went viral with Indians in the U.S. and in India.

Harris—the first Indian-American and African-American woman to run for vice president—has often spoken of how her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, had a strong influence on her.

“Shyamala was an exceptional woman,” said Balachandran Gopalan. “She was a hard taskmaster and pushed her children to give their best. No wonder Kamala keeps talking about the influence her mother had on her life.”

Harris opened her vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech by remembering her mother and regretting that she was not there to see her success. “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning,” she said.

Her mother studied for a master’s in nutrition and endocrinology at University of California—Berkeley starting in 1958. She completed her Ph.D. before venturing into breast cancer research.

“She went to study science in the U.S. at a time when very few American women were studying science, forget unmarried Indian women,” said Gopalan. “My father had no objection to her going for higher studies as long as she could get a scholarship and fund her studies.”

Shyamala Gopalan Harris joined the civil rights movement in Berkeley in the 1960s and met Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican graduate student, at a protest. They married in 1963. After their divorce in the 1970s, Kamala Harris would visit Chennai frequently with her mother and sister.

In a YouTube video with Mindy Kaling late last year, Harris revealed that her grandfather was “mischievous,” making her French toast when his strictly vegetarian wife was out of town. “People have these stereotypes,” said Harris. “My grandfather was very progressive.”

In her bestseller “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” the Democratic candidate wrote at length about her family in India and how she was close to them: “They lived many thousands of miles away, and we rarely saw one another. Still, through many long-distance calls, our periodic trips to India, and letters and cards written back and forth, our sense of family—of closeness and comfort and trust—was able to penetrate the distance.”

“Kamala would visit India with her mother very often, almost every year when both my parents were alive,” said Gopalan.

Harris’s grandfather died in 1998; his wife Rajam in 2009. But Gopalan has kept in touch with his niece and has closely followed her political career. Her vice-presidential nomination was no surprise to him. “I have been following the news analyses in the U.S. media and election polls and trends,” he said. “She has a good chance unless Trump comes up with a U.S.-made vaccine for Covid-19 before September or something equally dramatic.”

For Gopalan—like the residents of his ancestral village—his niece has already won.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Anne Denbok.)



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Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Was ‘Not a Spy,’ Claims His Lawyer Dershowitz

Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Was ‘Not a Spy,’ Claims His Lawyer Dershowitz

Jeffrey Epstein was not a spy or an intelligence source, says famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

The longtime Harvard Law School faculty member was Epstein’s attorney in 2008 and negotiated a plea agreement that stopped the federal government from investigating Epstein. He was the subject of an FBI probe for allegedly soliciting paid sex from teenaged girls and transporting them across state lines for prostitution and other related offenses.

The plea deal, which covered Epstein and all his alleged accomplices “known and unknown” to authorities, was so sweeping that it provoked theories that Epstein was working for a U.S. or foreign spy service—or that he at least was a valuable intelligence source.

Dershowitz spent months with the accused pedophile and said in an interview with Zenger News that all the speculation was wrong.

Epstein pleaded guilty to two felonies in 2008 in exchange for a relatively light 18-month jail sentence and immunity from future prosecution for offenses committed in 2008 or earlier.

Dershowitz said in the interview that he was Epstein’s lead negotiator with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Alexander Acosta, and would have known about any ties between Epstein and any spy agencies.

And he said he would have used those ties as leverage if it were true.

“Believe me, I would have known about it,” he said. “I would have used it to my advantage and to his advantage.”

Dershowitz said he has negotiated plea deals in the past for clients who intelligence agencies consider indispensable. But those sorts of connections “never came up during any of our negotiations.”

“Let me tell you why that couldn’t possibly be true. If he had any intelligence connection, the first person he would have told that would be his lawyers,” Dershowitz told Zenger in a wide-ranging videotaped interview that lasted nearly 45 minutes.

“I would have gone to the government and said, you know, ‘He’s an intelligence agent. Don’t prosecute him,’”

Rumors about Epstein’s supposed connection to intelligence agencies continued to swirl after his August 10 death, which New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled a suicide.

Much of the speculation pointed to Acosta, who made the unconventional plea deal in 2008.

Former Vanity Fair journalist Vicky Ward said an unnamed former White House official told her that when President Donald Trump’s transition team interviewed Acosta for an appointment as secretary of labor, the former federal prosecutor had hinted that Epstein was connected to important intelligence work.

While preparing to face a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, Acosta told Trump officials not to worry, saying he had been told not to intervene and be tougher on the former financier. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” Acosta said, according to Ward’s source.

U.S. Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta poses for a photograph. (U.S. Department of Labor/Shawn T. Moore)

Ward’s account appeared in the Daily Beast, but she never named her source or provided documents or other evidence to support her version of events.

Dershowitz flatly dismissed that uncorroborated account.

“I don’t know where Acosta got that from,” he said. “I can’t imagine anybody would use Jeffrey Epstein as an intelligence operative, but who knows?”

Dershowitz didn’t address a book released four months after Epstein died, in which a self-described former Israeli spy says Epstein was an intelligence asset, and that he was his “handler.”

Ari Ben-Menashe made his claims in “Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” whose three authors included a former vice president of American Media, who oversaw the tabloid magazines Us Weekly, OK!, Star, In Touch, Life & Style, Closer, The National Examiner, RadarOnline.com and The National Enquirer.

Ben-Menashe said Epstein and his longtime girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell ran a “honey trap” to lure powerful men by arranging sex with young girls and then blackmailing them with hidden-camera videos. Epstein and Maxwell “would just blackmail people like that,” Ben-Menashe told the book’s authors.

He also claims to have been the Mossad handler for Ghislaine’s father, Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991. Maxwell was a publishing magnate who later won a seat in the British Parliament. Later, he was accused of misdirecting millions of pounds from his own company’s pension funds.

After Maxwell’s yacht, the “Lady Ghislaine,” arrived at a Spanish port without him in 1991, his body was found in floating in the Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands. That death, ruled a suicide, is also sheathed in speculation and mystery.

Ben-Menashe offered no documents or other witnesses to support his account.

Dershowitz said he does not doubt Epstein had connections in high places. He cited a dinner party thrown by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, where the guests included Dershowitz and his wife, as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“The phone rang—he [Clinton] was president at the time—and he walked off with the phone and spent probably 15 minutes talking to somebody. I didn’t know who it was,” Dershowitz said. “And then he brought his phone over and said, ‘Hey Alan, somebody wants to say hello to you.’ ”

“And he hands me the phone, and it’s Jeffrey Epstein.”

“So clearly he [Clinton] had some relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. We know that he traveled, Clinton traveled on Epstein’s plane. Not to the island, but to charitable areas, I think in Asia and maybe Africa, raising funds for the Clinton Foundation,” Dershowitz said.

“Everybody had relationships with Epstein.”

(Edited by David Martosko.)



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U.S. House Incumbents Keep Getting Ousted

U.S. House Incumbents Keep Getting Ousted

Incumbents in the House of Representatives used to win their primaries easily.

Not anymore.

This year, challengers have crushed eight incumbents in their own party. That’s the highest number of losses in a non-redistricting year since 1974. Chalk it up to allegations of corruption—but also increased political polarization.

On Tuesday Rep. Ross Spano, a Florida Republican, was the latest to fall. The Justice Department has been investigating Spano over loans he made to his 2018 campaign, according to the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Eliot Engel’s defeat was the most high-profile crash-and-burn of an incumbent. Jamaal Bowman, a former middle-school principal and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, knocked off Engel, a New York Democrat and 31-year veteran of the House, charging him with being out of touch and too conservative.  Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backed Bowman.

Ocasio-Cortez herself had defeated 20-year incumbent New York Rep. Joseph Crowley in the 2018 Democratic primary, a major upset by the young progressive.

Bowman wasn’t the only progressive to win a striking victory in 2020. Rep. William Clay, a Missouri Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus watched his career end. Clay has been in the House for 19 years. Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and first-time candidate, offed him. In Illinois, Daniel Lipinski, a rare Democratic conservative who opposes legal abortion, lost his reelection bid. Marie Newman, a liberal, is the nominee.

A different kind of frustration ended the career of Rep. Steve King, a 17-year Republican from Iowa and a fierce opponent of illegal and current levels of legal immigration. Fellow House Republicans have shunned King over what’ve widely been considered to be racist comments about immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Conservative Randy Feenstra is likely to hold the seat for the GOP. In Virginia, a rural Republican, Rep. Denver Riggleman, paid dearly for presiding over a same-sex wedding and was sent packing after just two terms.

Multiple factors have contributed to this year’s defeats, including unhappiness with Congress, demographic changes, and fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, said Gayle Alberda, a politics professor at Fairfield University.

“So when you’re dissatisfied with what’s going on, you tend to vote for the outsider,” Alberda says.

Voters’ disapproval of how Congress is significantly higher now than it was in 1974, according to Gallup. Seventy-five percent of voters disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job in the most recent Gallup poll, while 34% disapproved in August 1974.

The irony of the election of more ideological figures is that it is likely to lead to more bickering and less compromise—something voters say they hate but keep encouraging.

(Edited by Matthew Cooper and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)



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Kamala Harris Juices Up Social Media Excitement for Joe Biden Campaign

Kamala Harris Juices Up Social Media Excitement for Joe Biden Campaign

Social media users were clicking and sharing items about Joe Biden more than ever before—thanks to his new running mate, Kamala Harris.

Social media engagement with stories about Biden hit its highest level this year the week the Democratic presidential candidate named Harris, the U.S. senator from California, to the ticket.

“Twenty-one of the 25 most engaged stories about Biden last week were directly to do with Biden picking her as VP,” Benedict Nicholson, head of research and editorial at NewsWhip, said in an email. The company tracks how content performs on social media.

Stories about Biden, nominated Aug. 18 during the Democratic National Convention, received 64 million interactions between shares, comments and likes on social media Aug. 10-16, according to NewsWhip data.

A majority of the engagement came from Facebook, with a smaller portion attributed to influential Twitter accounts and Pinterest pins.

Biden’s two prior peaks were in early March, when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary and endorsed Biden, Nicholson said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ending his campaign in April gave Biden another bump, Nicholson said.

Social media engagement with stories about President Donald Trump has overshadowed that of his challenger. Trump hit his low this year the week of March 2, with 80 million interactions, and he peaked the week of Feb. 3, when the Republican-led U.S. Senate acquitted him on impeachment charges, with 253 million engagements, according to Nicholson.

Trump’s announcement of Indiana’s Mike Pence as his running mate July 15, 2016, did little to boost social media engagement.

“Articles specifically mentioning him saw around 3 million engagements that week. Trump articles got 21 million engagements that week,” Nicholson said. “This was a middling number. January through end of August, the weekly low was 11.5 million and the high was 58.5 million.”

While Biden stories received a magnitude more in engagements compared with the week Trump named Pence as his running mate, “there’s not a huge amount of apples to apples comparison that we can make” because social media interactions, in general, have increased since 2016, Nicholson said.

Social media has become a more significant part of the political process than previous election cycles, said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I think it’s more about the person that people are responding to as opposed to the four-year difference,” he said. “Pence is not that exciting. Pence is like the Biden now and Kamala is like the Trump then.”

(Edited by Lisa Neff and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.) 



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