Two Republican lawmakers took to the House floor last week to push a conspiracy theory that the recent death of a former Homeland Security official may have been the result of a political hit job, even though law officials say it was a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound.
In a pair of bizarre, little-noticed speeches on Feb. 28, Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) insinuated that former Department of Homeland Security official Philip Haney’s death one week prior was actually a murder meant to keep him from revealing secrets about the government.
“I’m standing on the floor here saying, Madame Speaker, I don’t believe that Phil Haney committed suicide,” King said. “I expect that we’re going to get a thorough investigation. The evidence that is coming to me indicates that he was murdered.”
“Phil often said, ‘I would never commit suicide,’” King added in his speech.
Sheriff’s deputies in Amador County, California, discovered Haney in a roadside pull-over area on Feb. 21. The initial cause of death was described as a gunshot wound that authorities said was “self-inflicted.” Nevertheless, Haney’s death set off fevered speculation on the pro-Trump internet about a “deep state” conspiracy meant to silence Haney. That it was picked up by members of Congress and then spread on the floor of the House of Representatives illustrates the degree to which those online fever swamps have permeated the highest levels of political life.
Haney had briefly become a right-wing personality in the last years of the Obama administration, appearing on Fox News and Glenn Beck’s radio show to push his allegations that the government was ignoring radical Muslim groups. More recently, he’d claimed to be on a mysterious “special covert assignment” against Muslim-American politician Keith Ellison, now Minnesota’s attorney general.
After Haney was discovered dead, right-wing media personalities began suggesting that he had been killed to stop him from exposing some damaging information about the Obama administration.
In a nearly 30-minute speech, Gohmert claimed he had a pact with Haney to reveal unspecified secrets about the government in case either of them was murdered in a crime posed as a suicide. Gohmert claimed Haney was working on a book that would “name names of people that put this country at risk.”
“I’d been concerned about his safety, with all the information he knew and people who could’ve gotten in trouble,” Gohmert said. “We had a mutual pact, it said: either one of us ended up committing suicide, then the other is going to make sure that the truth wins out.”
Staffers for King and Gohmert didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Amador Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast that Haney’s death has not officially been declared a suicide, and that a ruling could take months.
Before the mentions on the the House floor, Haney’s death attracted attention from right-wing blogs like the Gateway Pundit and commentator Glenn Beck. In an interview with a local TV station, Amador Sheriff Ryan Martin said his office had been “inundated with a lot of theories” about Haney’s death.
Much of the speculation has focused on a supposed thumb-drive of data that Haney allegedly kept around his neck, which Haney’s supporters claim was filled with incriminating documents about the Obama administration.
“No man who speaks like Philip Haney did goes off and kills himself,” Beck said on his show days after Haney’s death. “I’d like to ask the police that found his body and deemed it a suicide if he had a thumb-drive around his neck.”
Like Beck, King focused on the thumb-drive in his speech.
“He was concerned then that he would be a target by people,” King said in his speech. “And he had a thumb drive with a lot of data on it—I don’t know how many gigs it was—hanging in a lanyard around his neck.”
King said he’d submitted a lengthy list of questions to the Amador sheriff about King’s death.
“The next step along the way is, if so, we need to find his killer,” said the Iowa congressman.