Washington House hires outside firm to investigate a member

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state House on Monday hired a firm to investigate whether a member has engaged in, planned or promoted political violence and to determine the extent of his involvement with groups or people involved with such activities.

The chief clerk of the House, Bernard Dean, signed a contract with Kathy Leodler, a former FBI agent who is head of the Rampart Group, to investigate Rep. Matt Shea. The firm will produce a preliminary report by Sept. 30 and a final report to the House by Dec. 1. The contract notes that the report will also "asses the level of threat of political violence posed by these individuals and groups."

Shea, a Republican from Spokane Valley who rarely speaks to the press, did not respond to a request for comment sent through a spokesman.

He came under fire earlier this year following reports in The Guardian on contents of internet chats from 2017 involving Shea and three other men proposing to confront "leftists" with a variety of tactics, including violence, surveillance and intimidation.

In the chats, Shea appeared to offer to perform background checks on political opponents.

The texts came after Shea, a lawyer who was first elected to the House in 2008, attracted international attention after a document he wrote laid out a "biblical basis for war" against people who practiced same-sex marriage and abortion. He later said that the document was taken out of context.

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox said that his caucus had started a preliminary investigation earlier this year following the Guardian report but suspended that effort once it became clear that an outside investigation would occur.

"I think it's appropriate to investigate threats of political violence so you can determine whether there is or there isn't," he said. "But you can't investigate people's political beliefs or their political associations."

Wilcox said he was glad to see the scope of the contract, saying that the chief clerk made plain that "this is about political violence."

Acting Speaker John Lovick noted that while most investigations ordered by the House concern internal issues, like sexual harassment or workplace conduct, the allegations against Shea concern the integrity of the institution of the House and need to be examined.

"This demands that we conduct the most impartial investigation we possibly can," he said.