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Was the Tea Party Kicked Out of the Capitol By Former Bennett Staffers Mad at Mike Lee?

Yesterday, the long planned Tea Party Debt Commission gathered in Washington, D.C. after months of development and procedure.  Everything was set, the meeting had been approved through all of the appropriate channels, the tables had been set up, the microphones were in place.

One snag.  Bad blood in D.C.

You may have seen the reports come out yesterday that the Rules Committee had determined a meeting called by Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul in conjunction with various tea party leaders and FreedomWorks, was in violation of Senate rules because they used the word “hearing” in the description of the meeting.  Turns out that’s a pretty big deal to some people.

As Michelle Malkin notes:

Funny thing is, members of Congress have been able to convene politicized “hearings” in government buildings for years. On the House side, Democrat Rep. John Conyers’ “basement hearings” on everything from impeachment to illegal immigration are legend.

On the Senate side, such non-official, non-hearing “hearings” are plentiful:

Here’s an announcement of a Republican Senate policy forum held by former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett (the entrenched incumbent that Sen. Lee beat, as it happens) on climate chance and nuclear energy.

Vid:

[Link to Video]

And here’s a transcript of another non-hearing hearing involving Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (yeah, the guy responsible for shutting down the Tea Party debt panel) on the Valerie Plame affair.

The New York Times reported accurately on the events, but later in the day, updated their own report to reflect a correction called in by the Capitol Police who informed them that it was actually all part of an evacuation related to a suspicious package that had arrived at Senator Jeff Session’s office.

Evicted from the Russell Building, [FreedomWorks] saw suspicious motives – big government strikes again! — and issued another press release declaring the shutdown “outrageous.”

[...]

But the Capitol police shut down the room where they planned to meet, after a suspicious package was found in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama.

See? It was all about safety you big sillies!  Oh, did I forget to mention that  few of the people kicking out the gathering had a lot of reasons to hold a grudge against one Senator Mike Lee?

Meet Shaun Parkin, Deputy Staff Director for the Senate Rules Committee and former Senior Policy Adviser to Senator Bennett who (completely coincidentally) Senator Lee defeated in a primary in 2010.

Here he is in action, pushing his fellow Republican out of the room:

And here’s a transcript of the conversation which the Capitol Police say had nothing to do with the eviction of the assembled Tea Party Debt Commission.

Lyndon Armstrong: “If the Chairman’s office tells us to do it, that’s…

Sen. Mike Lee: “What’s your name?”

Armstrong: “Lyndon Armstrong”

Lee: “I’m just…who told you to do it?”

Armstrong: “The  Chairman tells us that this event has to be moved.”

Lee: “Who’s the Chairman?”

Armstrong: “Uh…Schumer?”

Armstrong: “We also have the issue of uncredentialed media.”

Lee: “Well…ok…I’ll get up and make an announcement that un-credentialed media need to leave.”

Lee: “Does the first amendment have no application here?

Shaun Parkin: “Absolutely”

Lee: “Does the fact that I’m a Senator and I’ve convened this meeting, this is not an outside group, this is me, have no meaning here?”

Parkin: “No one’s disapproving of you having a meeting here.  It’s just that you can’t simulate a hearing.”

Lee: “It’s not simulating a hearing! A hearing is an official function, in which you’re conducting a legislative investigation.  I’ve convened a panel of experts, we’re going to have a panel discussion.  And with all due respect…I think that’s for me to decide if it’s a hearing and not for you.”

Yet, the New York Times is all but certain that this had nothing to do with disputes over rules or the tea party being denied the opportunity to become involved in the process.

But the truth is, even without the documented and indisputable video evidence of which the above is merely one of many, the timelines involved don’t match up which a very minor level of diligence would’ve revealed.

Note the time stamps on this email exchange where the Rules Committee is expressing their concerns over the meeting:

From: Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:11 PM
To: McCoy, Ryan (Lee); Stokes, Spencer (Lee)
Subject: Re: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm

Ok. At this point, we have to pull the plug on the event.

Lynden C. Armstrong
Chief Clerk
U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee
305 Russell Senate Office Building
(xxx) xxx-xxx Direct
(xxx) 224-xxx Main
(xxx) xxx-xxx Fax
lynden_armstrong@rules.senate.gov
————————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Device
From: McCoy, Ryan (Lee)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:10 PM
To: Stokes, Spencer (Lee); Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Subject: Re: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm

Lynden I will be there in 10 minutes.

From: Stokes, Spencer (Lee)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:05 PM
To: Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Cc: McCoy, Ryan (Lee)
Subject: Re: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm

Lynden,

I am in Utah but I will have Ryan McCoy find you. This was an event to get input from some Utahns and others about the Debt.

I have cc’d Ryan McCoy.

Spencer
From: Armstrong, Lynden (Rules)
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 01:03 PM
To: Stokes, Spencer (Lee)
Subject: URGENT: Tea Party Budget Hearing at 2:00pm

Spencer –
Please call me ASAP or meet down at SR-325 about the Tea Party Budget Hearing that is scheduled at 2:00pm.  There are two problems with this and that is they are simulating a hearing which isn’t allowed and the Rules Committee has determined events of this nature are political and not allowed.
Cell is xxx-xxx-xxx
Lynden C. Armstrong
Chief Clerk
U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
305 Russell Senate Office Building
(xxx) xxx-xxx
(xxx) xxx-xxx Fax
lynden_armstrong@rules.senate.gov

According to this email exchange, the final decision to shut down, by direct order of Rules Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Schumer, was decided by 1:11 pm yesterday.

So was there an evacuation?  Yes.  Almost a half hour after this decision had been made and carried out.

This message went out to those in the Capitol at 1:31 pm:

The US Capitol Police are responding to a suspicious package in Room 326 of the Russell Senate Office Building. All staff and other personnel are directed to avoid this area until further notice.
Message sent from USCP Command Center – DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE
11/17/2011,13:31:08

Followed by:

The US Capitol Police has concluded its investigation of the suspicious package in Room 326 of the Russell Senate Office Building. All tests are negative and the area is now open.

Message sent from USCP Command Center – DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE
11/17/2011,14:08:40

Ok, the timelines certainly don’t add up.  So why would the police think that it was the evacuation and not what our lying eyes showed us on tape?  Better question, why would they care if the New York Times ran a story about a rules dispute between Senator Schumer and Senator Lee?  Even better question, why would they call the New York Times to ask them this question?  And of course, why wouldn’t the New York Times call Senator Schumer or Senator Lee to confirm the details of the story before retracting what they had previously written?

So…quick recap.

THURSDAY

1:03 PM – Senator Lee’s staff is informed that there is a problem with the function that they have set up, specifically related to their use of the word “hearing.”

1:11 PM – After some back and forth, the decision is made by the Rules Committee that the function must be shut down.

Between 1:10 – 1:30 PM – The staffers from the Rules Committee assigned to escort the Tea Party groups and Senators out of the room are confronted by Senator Mike Lee.  One of those staffers happens to be the former Senior Policy Adviser to Senator Bennett who was defeated by Mike Lee in the previous primary season.  The groups decide to leave the building rather than have to worry about continued interruptions, and they took their meeting elsewhere.

1:31 PM –  After receiving a call about a suspicious package, the Capitol police proceed to send out a notice that everyone around the area of room 325 (the room the tea party had previously attempted to gather in) had to move elsewhere until they had cleared it. Not the whole Capitol as it turns out. Not, according to some reports, even the actual room that the package had been delivered to. No, just the room that the scheduled event was going to have been held at.

2:08 PM – Investigation of the package concludes and business resumes in the Capitol.

4:09 PM – The New York Times publishes an article retelling the story of how a dispute over rules caused a tea party event to be forced out of the Capitol.

Between 4:09 PM – 5:12 PM – The Capitol police take it upon themselves to call the New York Times to explain that it totally wasn’t a dispute over the use of the word ‘hearing’ by the Rules Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Schumer, but was rather an evacuation as the result of a suspicious package.

5:12 PM – The New York Times updates their story reflecting that the tea party people were totally wrong and that it totally had nothing to do with the events taking place on dozens of videos that were taken almost a half hour before the word “evacuation” was uttered.

Well, one thing is for certain.  Senator Schumer could shed light on this whole thing by confirming that he did indeed order the meeting to be shut down as the staffers said.

I reached out to Schumer’s office’s and have as yet not received a reply.

After hours of waiting for a response, I finally sent an email over to Senator Mike Lee’s office to see if they had heard anything.  Turned out they had:

From: “Phillips, Brian (Lee)”
Subject: Re: Tea Party Debt Commission
Date: November 18, 2011 4:27:02 PM EST
To: Ben Howe
Senator Schumer did call and, as Senator Lee had suspected, confirmed he did not know about the meeting or any of the facts related to it. 

Man, isn’t it amazing how the world just works to Senator Schumer’s benefit, even when he has no idea it’s going on?

So the only logical conclusions you can come to is that a) The staffers are lying or b) Chuck Schumer is lying.

My gut tells me the answer is c) all of the above.

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