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Justice Department Probes 'Squad' Member Over Security Spending

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) acknowledged Tuesday that she was under Justice Department investigation.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) acknowledged Tuesday that she was under Justice Department investigation.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) acknowledged Tuesday that she was under Justice Department investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating activist-turned-congresswoman Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat who is a member of the progressive “Squad,” for allegedly misspending campaign funds.

Bush acknowledged the probe in a statement Tuesday, not long after Punchbowl News first reported that she was under investigation.

“I can confirm that the Department of Justice is reviewing my campaign’s spending on security services,” Bush said. “We are fully cooperating in this investigation.”

The probe’s existence was first disclosed publicly Monday afternoon, when a House clerk read a notice from House Sergeant-at-Arms William McFarland indicating that he had received a grand jury subpoena Thursday from the Justice Department for documents and intended to comply with it. The notice did not specify what kind of documents were being sought or why.

Punchbowl News reported that the investigation into Bush is about the use of her member’s representation allowance, a pot of money given to each House member for their office expenses in Washington and back in their home districts. However, Bush’s statement indicated that the probe was focused on her campaign spending.

“As a rank-and-file member of Congress I am not entitled to personal protection by the House, and instead have used campaign funds as permissible to retain security services,” Bush said. “I have not used any federal tax dollars for personal security services.”

Bush has faced scrutiny for paying her husband, Cortney Merritts, tens of thousands from her campaign account for “security services.” She spent nearly $130,000 from her campaign account on private security in the first nine months of 2023, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Though paying family members with campaign funds is legal, candidates are required to pay the fair market rate for their services — not more, not less. It is not legal to hire family members as congressional staffers.

Bush came to prominence during Black Lives Matter protests after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri. 

She was elected in 2020, defeating longtime incumbent William Lacy Clay Jr., and has been a prominent member of the Squad, the informal name for a group of young Democratic House members including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

The Squad is generally seen as representing the furthest left flank of the House Democratic Caucus.

Its members, all of whom belong to racial minority groups and most of whom are women, are the focus of intense scrutiny from right-wing media and politicians, and are known to receive numerous threats.

Bush’s heavy spending on security services has drawn down her campaign account. She only had roughly $20,000 in cash on hand at the end of September, even as she prepares for a primary challenge from local prosecutor Wesley Bell in her heavily Democratic district centered on St. Louis.