US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on May 17, 2023 ( AFP / Mandel NGAN)

House speaker has not called for US congressman's prosecution

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Posts shared thousands of times across social media platforms say US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has called for the "immediate expulsion and possible prosecution" of Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. This is false; the claims misconstrue the Republican leader's comments, which criticized Schiff for alleging former president Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

"BREAKING: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has called for the immediate expulsion and possible prosecution of Rep. Adam Schiff for committing crimes of treason against the United States," says a May 17, 2023 tweet from an account called "Leading Report."

The post accumulated tens of thousands of interactions. Similar claims circulated elsewhere on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as in articles from websites that have previously published misinformation.

Screenshot from Twitter taken May 19, 2023

The posts reference something McCarthy said about Schiff, a Democrat from the US state of California, during a May 16 press conference on federal budget negotiations. But McCarthy did not explicitly call for Schiff's ouster or prosecution for treason.

Here are the speaker's comments to reporters at the US Capitol, in context:

Reporter: "Mr. Speaker, you have pledged if the GOP takes the majority in the House that you would investigate the findings of the Durham investigation. Now that the report has been released, what does accountability look like?"
McCarthy: "Well, a number of things. We're asking Durham to come in and testify so we can look at it more.
"It really raises the question about Adam Schiff. You remember when he told the American people he had proof? Remember when he'd tell them he didn't know the whistleblower -- and what he put America through and openly lied to us and now it's proven that this as well? It raises a lot of questions about his -- just his character, his standing inside of Congress and whether he should even be in Congress."

The Durham investigation

McCarthy's criticism of Schiff stems from the latter lawmaker's comments about Trump's supposed connections to Russia.

Schiff was the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member and later chairman during the Trump administration. He served as the lead manager for the former president's first impeachment trial.

The Democrat has repeatedly alleged Trump's campaign colluded with Russians during the 2016 election.

"I've been very clear over the past year, year and a half that there is ample evidence of collusion in plain sight," Schiff said on ABC's "This Week" in April 2019. "And I use that word very carefully because I also distinguish time and time again between collusion, that is acts of corruption that may or may not be criminal, and proof of a criminal conspiracy."

He added: "Every act that I've pointed to as evidence of collusion has now been borne out by the report."

The congressman's comments came after former special counsel Robert Mueller released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The investigation did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy, although Mueller pushed back on Trump's claims of exoneration by pointing out that the probe did not evaluate "collusion," which is not a legal term.

In May 2019, then-attorney general William Barr appointed Special Counsel John Durham to address allegations that the Russia investigation was a political "witch hunt," as Trump claimed. The inquiry looked specifically at "Crossfire Hurricane," the FBI's probe into claims of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

In a more than 300-page report (archived here) released May 15, 2023, Durham said the FBI investigation was seriously flawed.

"Neither US law enforcement nor the Intelligence Community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at the commencement of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation," the report says.

Democrats have dismissed the inquiry.

"The Durham investigation was flawed from the start," Schiff said in a May 16 tweet. "It began for a political purpose -- to satisfy Trump. It resulted in two spectacular failures at trial. And ended with nothing to show for four years of effort."

Expulsion proposal

Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican congresswoman from the state of Florida, filed a resolution May 17 to remove Schiff from Congress for his promotion of claims that Trump colluded with Russia in 2016.

"The Durham Report makes clear that the Russian Collusion was a lie from day one and Schiff knowingly used his position in an attempt to divide our country," Luna said in a statement.

But as of May 19, the bill (archived here) had no cosponsors and had not been brought to a vote. The Constitution stipulates two-thirds of the House must back such an action, which has only occurred five times in the legislative body's history -- most recently in 2002.

Schiff responded to Luna's proposal by saying he is "not backing down."

"When this chapter is written, it will record: When Republicans lacked the courage to stand up to the most unethical president in history, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did," he said in a May 18 tweet.

AFP found no evidence that McCarthy has explicitly advocated for removing Schiff from Congress or charging him with treason. When asked about Luna's resolution on May 18, McCarthy told Politico he would "have to look at it."

AFP contacted the speaker's office for additional comment, for a response was not forthcoming.

AFP previously debunked claims that Schiff had been arrested for treason here.