(Reuters) -Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene on Friday told a lawyer for voters seeking to disqualify her from running for re-election that she did not know how to answer a question about whether she advocates violence against people with whom she disagrees.
Greene testified in a Georgia state court in Atlanta in a novel legal challenge to her candidacy accusing her of violating a U.S. Constitution provision called the “Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause” by supporting an incendiary rally that preceded last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Andrew Celli, a lawyer for the voters, asked Greene during the hearing before administrative law judge Charles Beaudrot whether she has advocates political violence against people with whom she disagrees.
“I don’t think so,” Greene replied. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
Greene is a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump. In comments to the media, she has downplayed and justified the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol assault by Trump supporters in their failed bid to block congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Trump at the preceding rally told his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” repeating his false claims that the election was stolen through widespread voter fraud. The Trump supporters attacked police, ransacked parts of the Capitol and send lawmakers into hiding for their own safety.
“I was asking people to come for a peaceful march, which everyone is entitled to do,” Greene told the hearing. “I was not asking them to actively engage in violence.”
The constitutional clause, added after the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s, prohibits politicians from running for Congress if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” or “given aid or comfort” to the nation’s enemies.
Greene, who represents a Georgia district in the U.S. House of Representatives, is seeking re-election this year, with the Republican primary scheduled on May 24 and the general election on Nov. 8.
Celli also questioned Greene about a video she recorded in 2019, before she took office, calling U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “traitor.” Greene at first denied making the statement, but then admitted to it under questioning by the Celli and the judge.
Greene’s lawyer argued that the statement was “hyperbole” and irrelevant to the case.
The voter challenge is being spearheaded by a group called Free Speech for People that advocates for campaign finance reform. A similar challenge backed by the same group against Republican U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn failed when a federal judge in North Carolina dismissed that suit on March 4.
Ron Fein, a lawyer for the voters seeking Greene’s disqualification, said in his opening remarks that the congresswoman played an “important role” in instigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“In some cases, the mask falls and she shows us exactly what she intended,” Fein said.
Greene’s lawyer, James Bopp, argued during his opening remarks that removing her from the ballot would be both unfair to her and to voters in her conservative-leaning district. Greene is expected to appeal any ruling against her, and has already brought parallel litigation in U.S. federal court seeking to halt the administrative proceeding.
In a recent court filing, Greene’s lawyers said she “vigorously denies that she aided and engaged in insurrection to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power.”
“Fundamentally, First Amendment rights are at stake, not only the right to vote, as I’ve mentioned, or the right to run for office,” Bopp said during the hearing, referring to the Constitution’s free speech protections.
Absentee ballots will start to be mailed on April 25.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)