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Congressional committee: “Substantial reason to believe” Rep. Chuck Edwards violated free-mail privilege

Updated: Jun 13



“I did not go to Washington to make nice with Joe Biden,” Edwards wrote... Then why does he consistently vote with Democrats on every bill that supported by them and gets passed! He's a disgrace to the Republican party and the party platform. He's in a race to catch up with Tillis who has a 40% comservative score. Edwards' 60% conservative score is even below the abysmal average House Republican conservative score of 70%. It drops every time he votes. Wake up. https://heritageaction.com/scorecard/search/118?query=28739




A congressional commission overseeing taxpayer-funded communication by House members determined Wednesday that there was “substantial reason to believe” that Rep. Chuck Edwards had violated congressional rules by sending newsletters containing inflammatory and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against President Biden and his son Hunter.

Edwards, R-Hendersonville, sent several newsletters last fall to thousands of constituents using the congressional franking privilege. The frank enables members of Congress to send postage, email, and other media at no cost to them. But the privilege, which dates to 1789, prohibits lawmakers from using the frank to send material unrelated to official governmental policy or their legislative duties. 


Among the expressly prohibited communications are those primarily intended for political reasons. 


Among the unsubstantiated allegations Edwards made against President Biden was that he had taken payments from “foreign sources for what appears to be an attempt to buy access and influence.” Edwards also claimed that Biden was using the Department of Justice to obstruct an investigation into Hunter Biden’s businesses, and then lied about such activities.

In response to a request for comment from Asheville Watchdog, the freshman congressman made no apology, although he implied that he would use the privilege more carefully in the future.


“I did not go to Washington to make nice with Joe Biden,” Edwards wrote in an emailed reply.  “So while I’ll do a better job of crossing my ‘i’s and dotting my t’s,’ I will not be robbed of my First Amendment rights by this hyper-partisan complaint, nor deterred from communicating with my constituents.”


Although the investigation into Biden’s finances appears at a dead end, Edwards also said he “was proud of the work we did” and believed “it was important to share the details” with constituents.


The House Communications Standards Commission, consisting of three Republicans and three Democrats, voted unanimously to validate a complaint filed against Edwards by Leslie Carey, chair of the Henderson County Democratic Party.  


In a letter released Wednesday, Chairman Mike Carey, R-Ohio, and Joseph Morelle, D-NY, wrote that the “Commission has found substantial reason to believe that a violation has occurred.”  The letter said it had levied “penalties” against Edwards, but didn’t detail them. 

The Commission’s rules specify that penalties can include stripping a member of the franking privilege for varying amounts of time, typically a month on the first offense to the maximum penalty of losing the frank entirely. 


A recent study by the Congressional Research Service found that House and Senate members spent over $8 million in a single year. Edwards is the highest spender in the North Carolina congressional delegation and ranks third among the 435 House members.

In the complaint, Carey cited newsletters sent by Edwards between May and December as violating the House rules on the frank’s use, which requires that all taxpayer-funded communications must be limited to a member’s official duties, such as reporting on government policy matters.  


The rules also state that the communication “must not be personalized” or used to “disparage” individuals. It adds: “‘[D]isparage’ shall include, but not be limited to, personal insults, ad hominem attacks or attacks on a person’s character.” 

Carey argued in her complaint that several of the anti-Biden attacks in the newsletters “were gratuitous, mean-spirited, politicized, ad hominem attacks … with no other purpose than to demean and disparage the President and his son, and which were sent at taxpayer expense in violation of the regulation.” 


In the emailed newsletters, frequently designed to mimic the visual impact of a tabloid magazine, Edwards drew frequently from a House investigation aimed at finding evidence to bring impeachment charges against President Biden. That investigation explored Hunter Biden’s business relationships in China and sought to link profits from those businesses to the president, who has been portrayed without evidence as an active participant in the scheme.   


“The Biden family’s business schemes to enrich themselves undermine our country, our interests and the integrity of the office of the presidency,” Edwards alleged in one newsletter. “There is no amount of Washington spin or dishonesty from the Biden press room that can shield the White House from this information.” 


Since those newsletters circulated, the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry has collapsed. Virtually all the allegations made by Edwards in his newsletters have been discredited. Several Republican members have abandoned the panel and publicly stated that no evidence has been uncovered linking the president to any illicit money, or his son to criminal activities. 


The Republican majority’s key witness against Biden, Alexander Smirnov, was indicted by the Justice Department for his ties to Russian intelligence agencies. 

Carey had previously filed a complaint against Edwards following a mailing to voters in his 11th Congressional District, which includes Asheville, in which he described the “Democratic-run” city as a cesspool of “lawlessness, vagrancy and public safety.” The commission dismissed that complaint.


[Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday, April 25, to include comment from Edwards.]

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County.  Tom Fiedler is an award-winning political reporter and editor who lives in Asheville.  Email him at tfiedler@avlwatchdog.org. The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community. To show your support for this vital public service please visit avlwatchdog.org/donate.

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