ASHTON — Before a conservative crowd gathered at the Ashton American Legion Community Building Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Steve King criticized federal law enforcement agencies and officials that have become targets of the Trump administration and affiliates.
His condemnation was in response to a question from attendee Charles Beldt, who expressed frustration at "these liberal Democrats that've tried to overthrow a sitting president."
"I mean, that used to be considered high treason, and they should spend their life in a federal penitentiary. Or is this just going to get swept under the rug?" Beldt continued.
James Comey, the former FBI director, came under fire late last month after the Justice Department's inspector general issued a report condemning Comey's handling of internal memos before his May 2017 departure. According to the Associated Press, Comey broke FBI rules by giving a memo containing unclassified information to a friend, with instructions to share the contents with a reporter.
President Trump has been highly critical of Comey during much of his presidency and attacked Comey on Twitter following the Justice Department report. The White House issued a statement calling Comey a "proven liar and leaker."
King, a stalwart supporter of Trump, suggested that Comey should have been charged with a crime.
"The jury is still out on this. I was disappointed to read that they had decided not to bring any charges against James Comey for what he has done," King said.
He added that he did not believe testimony Comey previously gave before Congress and said he was stonewalled in his conversations with other federal law enforcement officials.
"It looks to me like this nefarious plan to deny the president -- first, to deny Donald Trump the presidency -- and then, as the president-elect, try to destroy him to the point where he couldn't effectively govern, and then to try to take him down and out of office," King said. "It looks to me like the DOJ was involved, the FBI was involved, the State Department was involved, the CIA may well have been involved."
King subsequently tempered his statement, saying there are also good people working for the FBI.
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"This was just a handful of people right at the top that were carrying this out. It would've been something like 35,000 FBI agents across the country, and some of us know some of them, they're good people," King said. "So I don't want to spill any of this over on them. We've got a major problem at the top, and it is a bigger corruption than anything that I know of in American history."
Thursday was the 36th of 39 town halls King has planned in his constituent counties this year. The town hall in Ashton, an Osceola County town of around 427 people, was attended by somewhat north of 20 people, including King staff, press and security.
None of the attendees offered a direct challenge to King. Their questions ranged from King's House committee assignments to military veterans' issues and housing, to the country's moral decay.
One attendee, the Sheldon, Iowa newspaper publisher Peter W. Wagner, took the opportunity to air a personal dispute he's had with Paul Dorr, the firebrand religious activist who was recently found guilty of criminal mischief after he publicly burned LGBTQ library books in a barrel in Orange City.
"Steve, Paul Dorr, last summer, sent out a blast email claiming that he had knowledge that, A., I was not a Steve King supporter, that my wife and I were both Democrats, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves," Wagner said. "I'd like you to publicly acknowledge that you and I are still on the same team."
King, a longtime friend of Wagner, affirmed that they are indeed still on the same team.
King, for his part, continued his broadside against the national news media, which began at his first town hall this year, in the aftermath of a New York Times article that quoted him making controversial remarks on white supremacy.
A firestorm of criticism after the article caused King to lose all his House committee assignments, including the Agriculture Committee. That meant that, for the first time since 1899, Iowa had no representation on that committee.
In the aftermath of the article, King has forcefully and repeatedly denied making any such statement to the New York Times, saying the reporter did not record their conversation and will not share his notes. In subsequent speeches on the subject, King has made very clear efforts not to use the words "white supremacist" or "white nationalist," instead calling them "odious ideologies."
"This isn't my mistake, aside from doing the interview in the first place, I've admitted to that, but it's (House GOP leader) Kevin McCarthy's mistake, for being knee-jerk on this thing," King said.