We at The Fix are not legal experts -- many of us went into journalism precisely because we did not want to go to law school -- so we would never presume to offer a lawmaker under indictment our thoughts on their legal strategy. But we do get paid to report on politics, so we do feel somewhat qualified to analyze the political strategy a lawmaker might embrace under those circumstances.
And this is one of those times. Here is what Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) had to say to reporters Friday, following a 24-count indictment on fraud and conspiracy charges:
"These are the same agents that was not able to do a thorough investigation of [Orlando shooter Omar Mateen], and we ended up with 50 people dead."
In other words: the Orlando shooting victims would still be alive if the Department of Justice hadn't spent so much time investigating her.
Oof. Of all the things one could say when under indictment and in a tough reelection campaign, this likely tops the list of what NOT to say.
At best, Brown is making parallels that don't seem to be there, and at worse, she's using the deadliest shooting in mass history -- a month old Tuesday -- to her political and legal advantage.
Her lawyer apparently doubled down on the highly questionable logic while talking to reporters Friday, moments after Brown pleaded not guilty to a myriad of corruption and fraud charges that stem from what authorities say is a fake nonprofit she and her chief of staff set up in Virginia and used as a "personal slush fund."
"Perhaps had it chosen to devote its resources more thoughtfully, 50 innocent people would be alive today," Brown's attorney, Elizabeth White, told reporters, according to First Coast News.
We shouldn't have to be having this conversation about why the Jacksonville-area congresswoman's legal troubles has nothing to do with the Orlando massacre, but apparently we are, so let's take a moment to run down why her attempts to make that connection are problematic.
First, Brown and her attorney are defying basic logic about how our judicial system works, suggesting that our nation's top prosecutorial agency can't do two things at once. (Never mind the facts of the Orlando shooting don't even match up with Brown's claim: Mateen wasn't even on the FBI's terrorist watch list at the time he legally bought the firearms he used to slaughter 50 people at a gay Orlando night club in June.)
In the process of questioning the agency's impartiality, Brown risks pouring salt in still-gaping wounds in her state -- for no apparent reason we can see other than to try to make the case she's the victim of a political witch hunt. If your loved one died in or was traumatized by the Orlando massacre, hearing from a public official that perhaps they'd be alive today if only X, Y or Z happened must be agony. (Before Brown's district was redrawn by Florida courts, it included parts of the Orlando area, and the shooting happened in her district.)
This wasn't the only national tragedy Brown seized on to try to cast doubt on the investigation against her. As The Hill's Caitlin Yilek pointed out, Brown compared her indictment on her blog Sunday to the fatal shootings of two black men the same week:
"I’m not the first black elected official to be persecuted and, sad to say, I won’t be the last," she wrote.
Brown may well be proven innocent in the court of law. But using the race, power and tragedy card -- all at once -- to try to do it doesn't help her in the court of public opinion.