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Michigan House Republicans take Democrat's committee posts after 'warning' to 'Trumpers'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing The Michigan House's Republican leaders have taken away the committee assignments of Democratic Rep. Cynthia Johnson after the Detroit lawmaker issued a "warning" to "you Trumpers" in a Tuesday night Facebook post.

Johnson had been the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, the panel that heard testimony Dec. 2 from President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. She pushed back on Giuliani's unproven claims of election fraud and said his witnesses were lying. Afterward, she received death threats from Trump supporters.

In a three-minute video posted to her personal Facebook page, Johnson responded to those making threats and told her supporters to do "things right and in order" but advised Trump's backers to "be careful" and "walk lightly." She then said, "We ain't playing with you." She also told her supporters to "hit their a---s" in the pocketbook.

"Enough of the shenanigans," Johnson said. "Enough is enough. And for those of you who are soldiers, you know how to do it. Do it right. Be in order. Make them pay."

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, speaks in a Facebook video on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

On Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, who becomes the speaker next year, issued a statement calling Johnson's comments "unbecoming of an elected official."

"Rep. Johnson has been removed from her committee assignments, and we are looking into further disciplinary action as the proper authorities conduct their own investigations," Chatfield and Wentworth added.

In addition to being vice chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, she was a member of the Agriculture Committee and Families, Children and Seniors Committee.

Johnson's remarks were gaining attention and criticism in conservative circles of social media early Wednesday morning. She couldn't be reached by The Detroit News, but she posted another video later Wednesday morning, appearing to clarify that it was time for "soldiers" for Christ, against racism and against misogyny to "rise."

During an appearance on MSNBC's "The Reid Out" Wednesday night, Johnson said she she was simply doing her job for her constituents and being punished.

She criticized Republican leaders for not reaching out to her about the threats she's received and said her own Democratic caucus isn't providing support.

"I have a job to do. And my job is to protect democracy and my job is also to question people when they come to our hearings. And that’s what I was doing," Johnson told MSNBC's Joy Reid.

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, and Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, who will lead the Democratic caucus next term, slammed the action against Johnson by Republican lawmakers. The committee now has one less Democrat for any hearings.

Taking away her committee assignments in the final days of the legislative session "illustrates that the Republicans prioritize partisan politics and political theater over healing the wounds of division, preserving the well-being of the Legislature as an institution, protecting the safety of members and acting on the needs of the people of Michigan," Greig and Lasinksi said in a Wednesday statement.

The Detroit lawmaker received personal threats after participating in the Dec. 2 Michigan House Oversight Committee hearing that featured Giuliani, who brought poll challengers and a Dominion voting system contract worker to give testimony about events at the TCF Center in Detroit, where the city's absentee ballots were counted. 

Threats of violence against Johnson "have continued to place the safety of her and her loved ones in jeopardy," Greig and Lasinski said in their joint statement.

"It is regrettable that her comments have led to the unintended consequence of adding further tension. It’s incumbent upon every elected official to be mindful of the impact of our words, especially in a moment of national tension and crisis," they added.

During the Giuliani hearing, Johnson spoke out against unproven claims of election fraud presented by the former New York City mayor's witnesses and defended the city she represents in the Legislature, saying the witnesses were lying.

Since then, she's posted voicemail messages on her Facebook page that she's received. The voicemails were from a woman from Wheeling, Illinois, based on the number associated with the call, which Johnson posted, and two men.

The woman criticized how Johnson questioned a witness and told Johnson she was going to share the lawmaker's phone number with "a million people." A message from one of the men threatened the state representative, including using vile language to describe women and threatened Johnson, who is Black, with being lynched, telling her: "Your time is coming ...from the (expletive) gallows you'll be hanging."

In her video Tuesday, Johnson said the Illinois woman had been identified by authorities. The FBI and state police "found her," Johnson said.

Also, during the video, she thanked people for supporting her efforts and said they should do "things right and in order" and to avoid name calling. She said there's a good way to do things and another way, which she used an expletive to describe. 

"Always provide proof. Nobody cares what your mouth is saying. Provide proof," Johnson said. She added, “I wish I could be talking to you all in a private room. I just wish I could. But we’re public."

She told her supporters to "be smart." They don't have to yell or "curse people out," she said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, issued a statement reminding people "that if they have been threatened or if they fear for their safety, the appropriate thing to do is to call your local police department or 911, if it’s an emergency, so that law enforcement officers can respond."

"The threats Rep. Johnson has received are appalling, ugly and deeply disturbing, but her response to those messages is also unacceptable and I strongly condemn both," Nessel said. "My office has received a number of calls and emails from residents about these incidents."

Threats against Michigan officeholders have proliferated in recent weeks as Trump's backers have worked to discredit the Nov. 3 election. On Saturday night, protesters demonstrated outside Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home in Detroit after dark.

In an interview this week, Nessel said she intends to "be very vigorous" in pursuing threats against Michigan officials. Nessel said she is "legitimately concerned" about the safety of officeholders on both sides of the aisle.

In a statement, Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said she was "disturbed" by Johnson's Facebook video.

"It is reprehensible that an elected official would call on her ‘soldiers’ to make the supporters of an opposing party ‘pay’, and clearly such a statement could incite people to violence," Cox said. “It was distressing to know that Rep. Johnson received threats after last week’s hearing; however, by issuing threats of violence of her own against the supporters of President Trump, she has sunk to the same level as the unhinged individuals who threatened her.

"I call on Gov. Whitmer and Michigan Democrats to condemn Representative Johnson’s statement immediately."

cmauger@detroitnews.com