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Justice Department investigating Rep. Cori Bush campaign's use of security funds

The Missouri Democrat confirmed the investigation, denying any wrongdoing and saying her campaign is "fully cooperating."
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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., for her campaign's spending on security services, she confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

“We are fully cooperating in this investigation,” Bush said, denying any wrongdoing.

As a former Black Lives Matter organizer and high-profile progressive on Capitol Hill, Bush has faced what she called “relentless threats to my physical safety and life” since her election in 2020.

"As a rank-and-file member of Congress I am not entitled to personal protection by the House, and instead have used campaign funds as permissible to retain security services," Bush said in her statement. "I have not used any federal tax dollars for personal security services. Any reporting that I have used federal funds for personal security is simply false."

The Justice Department declined to comment.

The Justice Department recently issued a grand jury subpoena to the House sergeant at arms for documents, a development that was made public on the House floor Monday. But the focus of the federal probe was not revealed at the time.

Cori Bush
Bush said her campaign is cooperating with the Justice Department probe.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Two sources confirmed Monday night that the Justice Department was investigating a Democratic lawmaker's use of security funds, but the member remained unidentified. Punchbowl News first reported Tuesday that Bush, who represents St. Louis, is the Democrat under investigation.

Bush, who ousted longtime Rep. Lacy Clay in the 2020 Democratic primary, came under scrutiny last February when she married her security guard, Cortney Merritts, then kept him on her campaign payroll for providing security services, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Conservative watchdog groups filed at least two complaints against Bush with the Federal Election Commission. While federal law bars lawmakers from paying family members to work in their official offices, they are allowed to pay relatives for campaign work so long as “the family member is providing bona fide services to the campaign.” However, payments "in excess of fair market value" are prohibited, the law says.

Bush acknowledged in her statement Tuesday that she retained her husband as part of her security team, saying “he has had extensive experience in this area, and is able to provide the necessary services at or below a fair market rate.”

An NBC News review of Bush's campaign expenditures found that she has spent $756,748.42 on security since her first run for Congress in the 2018 cycle.

She accused "right-wing" opponents of lodging "baseless complaints against me" and noted that the independent Office of Congressional Ethics had investigated the matter and unanimously voted to dismiss it. However, the bipartisan House Ethics Committee has not closed the case.

“I am under no illusion that these right-wing organizations will stop politicizing and pursuing efforts to attack me and the work that the people of St. Louis sent me to Congress to do: to lead boldly, to legislate change my constituents can feel, and to save lives," Bush said.

The clerk publicly informed lawmakers of the subpoena request when the House opened its session Monday, but few details were provided.

“This is to notify you formally pursuant to rule 8 of the rules of the House of Representatives that the office of the sergeant at arms for the House of Representatives has been served with a grand jury subpoena for documents issued by the U.S. Department of Justice,” House Reading Clerk Susan Cole said, reading a notification from House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland.

“After consulting with the House General Counsel I have determined that compliance with the subpoena is consistent with the rights and privileges of the House,” McFarland's statement, read by Cole, continued.

A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said in a statement that Bush is "entitled to the presumption of innocence."

“Representative Cori Bush has indicated that she is fully cooperating with the Department of Justice in connection with the ongoing investigation," said Jeffries spokesperson Christie Stephenson, who added that they expected the investigation would "follow the facts, apply the law and be conducted in a professional manner.”

Representatives of Republican leaders in the House declined to comment.

Asked about Bush at a leadership news conference, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Tuesday he had no comment and said it was "something for the Justice Department."

"I haven't talked to her," Aguilar said.