A South Dakota-based political action committee that’s endorsing Donald Trump for president is threatening to file an ethics complaint against a communications staff member in North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s office over a tweet she sent Tuesday night during the Republican presidential debate.
The PAC, called Veterans for a Strong America, is riled by a post on Twitter from Burr’s communications director, Becca Glover Watkins, that evidently was in response to a comment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, related to the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program targeting potential terrorists.
Cruz said the new USA Freedom Act would let national security officials have access to “nearly 100 percent” of cellphone numbers as they investigated possible threats. Before, under the Patriot Act, Cruz said, the agency could access only up to about 30 percent of cellphone numbers.
Watkins’ tweet afterward said, “Cruz shouldn’t have said that,” but she did not accuse the Texas senator of disclosing classified information. The post garnered 49 retweets and 61 “likes” on the social media site – and plenty of criticism from people who took issue with the suggestion of wrongdoing.
Many of the replies to Watkins’ post took a sexist tone, with some people calling her derogatory names and others asserting the information Cruz had shared wasn’t classified, pointing out that it had been previously published.
Her tweet did not mention the NSA or the particular phone-surveillance program that Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., were arguing about on Tuesday night.
Veterans for a Strong America, however, is accusing Watkins of a “political smear.”
Burr’s press secretary, Taylor Holgate, said Thursday morning that the N.C. senator’s office was aware of the statement about Watkins from Veterans for a Strong America and the office would “defer to the Ethics Committee for any review they choose to conduct.”
Watkins is a veteran conservative representative to the media in Washington. She previously worked for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee under Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. There, Watkins was at the center of pressing the White House over the IRS targeting conservative groups on tax issues.
A political funding arm for conservative causes, Veterans for a Strong America has $30 on hand and is $318 in debt, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Veterans for a Strong America, founded in 2010, was one of the first groups to challenge the State Department over the public release of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.
It bills its mission as working to ensure “America remains a strong nation by advancing liberty, safeguarding freedom and opposing tyranny.”
A political funding arm for conservative causes, Veterans for a Strong America has $30 on hand and is $318 in debt, according to OpenSecrets.org. Its chairman and founder is Joel Arends, an Iraq War veteran.
The PAC is also accusing Rubio of lying, claiming he “falsely asserted that Senator Cruz had disclosed classified information.”
During the debate, Rubio did not claim that Cruz had disclosed sensitive or classified information but said he wanted to be careful himself not to discuss classified material.
The figures and information Cruz mentioned during the nationally televised debate had been reported publicly and shared during congressional testimony – something Cruz’s campaign swiftly broadcast Wednesday after Burr told a gaggle of news reporters that his office would look into whether the Texas senator had said anything improper onstage.
Later Wednesday, Burr – who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – issued a statement along with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinsten of California, saying there would be no investigation into Cruz’s debate comment or any other statements made during the debate.
Veterans for a Strong America’s news statement on the issue says: “The fact that Senator Cruz has done nothing improper is underscored by the swift announcement of Senator Burr and Senator Feinstein that Senator Cruz would not be investigated for wrongdoing.”
The PAC took the opportunity Wednesday to return a spotlight to Clinton’s disputed emails. The group wants Burr and the Intelligence Committee to punish Clinton over allegations that she sent classified information via email over a home computer server.
Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @adouglasnews