Republican US Rep Matt Gaetz apologised for the “unintended consequences” after inviting a man accused of murder to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during a committee hearing this month.
The Florida congressman had invited Corey Beekman, a US Army National Guard combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, to recite the pledge during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on 1 February, bringing up old wounds for the family of the man Mr Beekman was accused of killing.
After a standoff with Michigan police in 2019, Mr Beekman was arrested and charged with murder, assault with intent to murder and two counts of felony firearm possession for allegedly killing 33-year old Billy Buchanan and shooting another woman inside the home. The woman’s two children were reportedly also inside at the time Mr Beekman was shot.
The charges were dropped in 2020 after a key witness could not be served a subpoena to appear.
Mr Gaetz’s office acknowledged in a statement to The Daily Beast that the congressman was unaware of his guest’s history before inviting him to Congress. “The family of Billy Buchanan brought the situation to my attention, and I’m glad they did,” Mr Gaetz said in the statement.
Michigan’s Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said in a statement that the congressman’s future invitations should “at the very least warrant a Google search.”
“It was like getting a dagger stuck in our heart again,” Denita Buchanan, Billy’s mother, told The Daily Beast. “We were infuriated when we first saw it … I was disgusted with the whole thing.”
Mr Gaetz explained that he was connected to Mr Beekman, who has since moved to Florida, after the man reached out to the congressman’s office. He said that when a veteran contacts his office, “our first thoughts aren’t, ‘let’s run a background check’ or ‘I wonder if this person had any run-ins with the law that might make someone look bad,’” according to The Daily Beast.
“We don’t have access to any type of surveillance technology or databases that would rise to the level of even some of the folks you’d see in your local police department,” he added. “We do have a team of dedicated young professionals who don’t look for and assume the worst in our constituents, especially our veterans.”
Ms Buchanan said the congressman’s office “did say they were terribly sorry for the mistake that was made.”