With a grand jury investigating and little support from House colleagues, Rep. Cynthia McKinney reversed course and apologized Thursday for an altercation in which she entered a Capitol building unrecognized, refused to stop when asked by a police officer and then hit him.
“I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation, and I apologize,” McKinney, D-Ga., said during a brief appearance on the House floor. “There should not have been any physical contact in this incident.”
The grand jury investigation into whether to seek assault or other charges was continuing. It was unclear what impact McKinney’s apology might have.
Her remarks came as two House officials who witnessed the March 29 scuffle prepared to answer subpoenas from the federal grand jury convened by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein. A day earlier, McKinney was shunned by several colleagues on the House floor, while the leaders of her party openly rejected her explanation that she was acting in self defense when she hit the officer.
The night before the apology, members of the Congressional Black Caucus urged McKinney in a private meeting to find a way to put the matter to rest, said a person familiar with the session.
What McKinney called a “misunderstanding” on Thursday she had labeled “racial profiling” and “inappropriate touching” a day earlier. For nearly a week, she and her lawyers had insisted she had been assaulted and had done nothing wrong. She is black and the police officer is white.
McKinney, 51, has a history of confrontations with officers.
In this case, she entered a House office building without passing through the metal detector that screens visitors. Members of Congress are permitted to bypass the machines, but she was not wearing the pin that identified her as a House member at the time.
The officer, whose name has not been made public, has said he asked McKinney three times to stop. She did not.
Terrance Gainer, outgoing chief of the Capitol Police, has said the officer placed a hand on McKinney and she responded by hitting him. He said McKinney’s race was not a factor.
Even as McKinney tried to put the incident behind her, a new scuffle occurred Thursday outside the Capitol between a man apparently protecting her and a reporter who asked the congresswoman whether she’d spoken to the grand jury.
“I’ll put your ass in jail the next time you push me,” the man told Cox Broadcasting correspondent Scott MacFarlane in video posted on WSB-TV’s Web site.
McKinney’s office refused to identify the man with her, but her spokesman, Coz Carson, said he is a “perfectly legitimate part-time employee” who works in her office and is on the House payroll. Carson said the man is 66 years old and was shoved by the reporter.
The March 29 incident has embarrassed Democrats, including fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, none of whom has publicly defended her behavior.
The caucus’ public silence stands in contrast to its investigations of past altercations between the U.S. Capitol Police and lawmakers.
One such probe occurred in 1990, when the caucus investigated whether Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla. poked a black female Capitol Police officer and shouted curses at her after she denied entrance to an Edwards staffer who did not have a House identification card with her.
A year later, the caucus investigated an incident in which a Capitol Police officer allegedly denied Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, entrance to the garage of a House office building because the officer did not believe Stokes was a member.
Republicans initially responded to the McKinney incident by advancing legislation to commend the Capitol Police for their professionalism.
The two House aides who saw the March 29 confrontation and were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury are Lisa Subrize, executive assistant to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., and Troy Phillips, senior legislative assistant to Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.
Bob Jackson, a spokesman for McCotter, said Subrize saw the confrontation and immediately filled out a form for the Capitol Police describing what she saw.
A spokeswoman for Farr declined comment.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who on Tuesday abandoned his re-election bid under a cloud of ethics charges, weighed in on Wednesday, saying McKinney “is a racist.”
“She has a long history of racism,” the Texas Republican said on Fox News Channel. “Everything is racism with her. This is incredible arrogance that sometimes hits these members of Congress, but especially Cynthia McKinney.”
On Wednesday, McKinney had charged anew that racism was behind what she said was a pattern of difficulty in clearing Hill security checkpoints, arguing that officers assigned to protect Congress members should recognize her, even without her congressional pin.
“This has become much ado about hairdo,” she said on multiple television interviews. She recently dropped her trademark cornrows in favor of loose curls.
Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Associated Press