An Oregon lawmaker facing charges for letting a mob into the state Capitol despite COVID-19 closures discussed “Operation Hall Pass” with a roomful of people just days before the incident.
Video of the discussion, surfaced Friday night by Oregon Public Broadcasting, showed Rep. Mike Nearman (R) giving out his cellphone number multiple times to the group.
“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass, which I don’t know anything about, and if you accused me of knowing something about, it I’ll deny it,” Nearman said on the video. “But there would be some person’s cell phone, which might be [recites a cell phone number], but that is just random numbers. That’s not anybody’s actual cell phone. And if you say, ‘I’m at the West entrance’ during the session and text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there.”
“But I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to do with that, and if I did, I wouldn’t say that I did, so,” he added.
Later, the video showed someone in the audience asking, “What was that again?”
“I didn’t really say a number,” Nearman replied. “But if I were to say a number it might have been something like [recites a cellphone number]. You’d have to say what entrance you’re at. But that’s not really going to happen. So don’t worry about that. Nobody said anything.”
According to the first charge against him, Nearman “did unlawfully and knowingly perform an act which constituted an unauthorized exercise of his official duties, with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another.”
The prosecutor pursuing charges against the legislator, Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson, told OPB her office had seen the video.
“It’s been part of the investigative material we have reviewed,” Clarkson said.
The YouTube video showing the discussion appeared to line up chronologically with the Capitol breach: An account called “The Black Conservative Preacher” streamed the video live on Dec. 16, public YouTube metadata showed. And the footage showed Nearman and his audience discussing potential timing for a demonstration: Weekends might be better-attended, he said, but weekdays get legislators’ attention.
“But Monday, everybody shows up,” someone in the crowd interjected.
“Monday, you’ve got one crack at it there,” Nearman responded.
The breach of the Oregon Capitol occurred on Monday, Dec. 21 — producing surveillance camera footage showing Nearman opening the right door at the right time to allow demonstrators inside the building.
A lengthy struggle with police ensued.
Nearman has been stripped of committee assignments and an investigator hired by the legislature concluded recently that “it is more likely than not that Rep. Nearman intentionally aided demonstrators in breaching Capitol security and entering the building on December 21, 2020, when it was closed to the public.”
The breach that day was one of several state-level precursors to the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January. At least one person present at the Salem protest, Richard Lee Harris, was later arrested and now faces charges for allegedly breaching the U.S. Capitol, OPB reported.
In a court filing last month opposing Harris’ motion for bond review, prosecutors noted Harris’ presence at the Oregon Capitol, where they said he was “part of a group of protesters who attempted to break into the Oregon Capitol building” and alleged that he assaulted a journalist present.