Scalise hit with ethics complaint over doctored Barkan video
The House Democratic campaign arm has filed a formal ethics complaint against House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who shared a video doctored to alter the wording of a question posed by activist Ady Barkan to former Vice President Joe Biden.
The complaint filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday alleges that Scalise violated the guidance of the House Ethics Committee, which in January ruled that publication of “deep fakes” violates House ethics rules. The committee defined “deep fakes” as “realistic photo, audio, video, and other forgeries generated with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.”
It’s unclear whether the forgery shared by Scalise on Sunday used artificial intelligence, as it took advantage of the fact that Barkan, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), uses a computer-generated voice to communicate.
Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine told The Verge on Sunday that “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-mintue clip in a one minute montage.”
The ethics complaint also alleges that Scalise used public resources for political gain, rather than for official House business, by using a Twitter account tied to his office.
In the original video published by NowThis News, Barkan interviewed Biden about shifting public safety funds from police to mental health care and social services, and at one point asked, “but do you agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” to which Biden responded in the affirmative.
The version Scalise published in a tweet on Sunday spliced the words “for police” after “funding,” in Barkan’s artificial voice, adding words that Barkan never said.
“No police. Mob rule. Total chaos. That’s the result of the Democrat agenda,” read Scalise’s since-deleted tweet, which included the doctored video.
“Minority Whip Scalise used taxpayer resources to deceive voters. He needs to be held accountable for that,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Lucinda Guinn, who signed the ethics complaint.
“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. House Democrats will keep fighting against purveyors of disinformation in our elections, foreign or domestic,” added Guinn.
Scalise removed the video on Sunday after Barkan asked him to do so.
“These are not my words. I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts. You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain,” tweeted Barkan.
But Scalise, who on Monday said the video “shouldn’t have been edited,” has continued to defend the intent of his post, arguing that the question had the same meaning with and without the spliced words.
“No ethics rule was violated and the intent of the video in question is accurate. It did not alter the point of the interviewer’s questions, which was to ascertain whether Vice President Biden would be open to the redirection of some police funding to other programs,” a Scalise spokesperson told The Hill.
“This is 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,” the spokesperson added.
The new ethics complaint pans Scalise for failing to apologize, “even while failing to deny the forgery.”
“Worse yet, when Mr. Barkan asked for an apology, Representative Scalise refused and doubled-down on the nonsensical defense of his actions,” reads the complaint.
The complaint, filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, has to pass two stages of review within that office.
The process takes at least 45 days before an issue can be referred to the House Committee on Ethics, assuming the Office of Congressional Ethics can find a substantial reason to believe a violation has occurred.