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Rep. Cori Bush Confirms Feds Are Probing Her Security Spending

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Steve Muhammad, who owns RS&T Security, is not the same Steve Muhammad who was involved in a scuffle with the media. The Daily Beast regrets the error.

The day after a mysterious House floor announcement of a federal subpoena for an unnamed Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) publicly confirmed on Tuesday that her campaign spending is under investigation by the Department of Justice, the Federal Election Commission, and the House Committee on Ethics.

In her statement, Bush said the investigations are focused on her campaign’s substantial security expenses, which have long drawn media scrutiny and a number of outside complaints. She broadly denounced those complaints as politically motivated.

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“First and foremost, I hold myself, my campaign, and my position to the highest levels of integrity. I also believe in transparency which is why I can confirm that the Department of Justice is reviewing my campaign’s spending on security services,” Bush said in her statement, adding that the campaign was “fully cooperating” with investigators.

In all, the Bush campaign has spent nearly $780,000 on personal security since 2019, according to federal campaign finance records.

While officeholders and candidates are permitted to use both campaign and federal funds to pay for personal protection, Bush has long been under fire for those expenses—most specifically her campaign’s payments to her husband, Cortney Merritts. That was the focus of an investigation by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which cleared Bush of wrongdoing last October.

Beyond Merritts, however, the Bush campaign has tapped a revolving cast of security consultants, which include reputable groups as well as less-established and quite controversial entities. One top contractor for Bush has been Nathaniel Davis, an unlicensed bodyguard who has spread antisemitic conspiracy theories and claimed to be 109 trillion years old with the power to summon tornadoes.

In her statement, Bush blamed conservative media for sensationalizing their coverage of her security expenses and generating “frivolous complaints” filed by members of the public—apparently referring to the genesis of the FEC and OCE inquiries.

While those bodies act on outside complaints, DOJ has a higher bar for launching an investigation. (DOJ declined to comment for this article.)

For Bush, an ultra-progressive lawmaker first elected in 2020, the federal probe arrives at an especially inopportune time. While she represents a safely Democratic district, she is facing a well-funded primary challenge from Wesley Bell, a St. Louis prosecutor, in an election slated for August.

In her statement, Bush defended her security needs in the face of what she called “relentless threats” to her safety and life. She has previously shared the racist and sexist content of these threats publicly.

Bush’s security spending, like that of many lawmakers, jumped sharply after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Afterward, the FEC—under pressure from the Republican Party—officially sanctioned the use of campaign funds for personal protection.

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As a candidate in 2020, Bush reported spending about $55,000 on personal security. In 2021, when she first took office, her outlay leaped to around $234,000, with another increase the next year, to nearly $340,000—representing roughly one of every five dollars her campaign spent over those two years.

In 2023, the payments decreased a bit under OCE and media scrutiny, with only $150,000 in personal protection services through the end of September; her campaign will release its year-end numbers on Wednesday.

While Bush’s need for security is certainly greater than that of the typical lawmaker, other aspects of her response to the DOJ probe are more dubious.

For instance, Bush said in her statement that she has always paid her husband “at or below a fair market rate” for personal security.

That’s a curious line of defense, in that federal campaigns and committees cannot accept below-market rates for services without triggering an “in-kind contribution” reporting requirement, because a special discount is viewed as a gift.

When it comes to who was providing security for Bush beyond her husband, there is scant publicly available information.

Another top entity that received payment for security services was PEACE Security, which is based in St. Louis. In 2021, PEACE was paid $92,398 from Bush’s campaign and in 2022 it was paid $225,281 for security services.

PEACE’s website is no longer available. A Facebook page for the group is still active, though there have been no posts since Nov. 9, 2023. The number listed on the site is still in service; when The Daily Beast called, the representative declined to comment.

Bush also paid thousands of dollars to a non-profit organization called DC Peace Team for “security services.”

According to DC Peace Team’s website, the group intends to “cultivate the habits and skills of nonviolence in our communities, so we can better resist injustice, and thus, build a more sustainable just peace.​” Part of the group's work, it says, is “deploying unarmed civilian protection units.”

A representative for DC Peace Team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bush also allocated at least some money from her taxpayer-funded official budget for security services—even though she flatly denied doing so in her statement.

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In February 2021, she paid $880 to RS&T Security Consulting for security services; in April of that year, she paid $536 to Hackett Security Inc. for security services. In all of 2021, Bush also paid RS&T around $74,000 through her campaign, FEC filings show.

RS&T owner Steven Revell told The Daily Beast in a phone call that he and his company are “fully cooperating” with the investigation and will be responsive and transparent regarding any inquiries from law enforcement.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bush did not take questions from reporters about the investigation as she left the House floor. Her staff instructed reporters that she would do a press gaggle on the Capitol steps—but as reporters gathered around the congresswoman, she read a prepared statement on her phone that was similar to her initial statement, and left without taking questions.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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