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LA County Sheriff Baca in US House shouting match

Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of El Segundo welcomes L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca to Capitol Hill
Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of El Segundo welcomes L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca to Capitol Hill
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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A House hearing about information sharing between police turned into a shouting match about patriotism today. L.A. County’s sheriff was right in the middle.

Sheriff Lee Baca was telling a Homeland Security subcommittee about staying on positive terms with the Muslim community. Republican Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana questioned Baca’s relationship with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which he implied helped groups that call for the destruction of Israel.

Souder said "there’s a substantial difference between protected speech and government officials going to fundraisers for organizations that do speech that is radical. And Sheriff Baca, you’ve been 10 times to the fundraisers for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which even the FBI has separated themselves from."

Baca interrupted, saying "and I’ll be there 10 more times."

Baca said CAIR did not support terrorists. "That is my experience, that is my interaction. And if you want to support that, you’re on your own."

Fighting mad, he cited his four decades in law enforcement, his service in the Marines, and his many trips to Israel. He said, "the security of Israel has always been at the forefront of my thinking. And for you to associate me somehow through some circuitous attack on CAIR, is not only inappropriate, it is un-American."

Souder said he didn’t question the sheriff’s patriotism – only his relationship with one group.

The heated exchange ended when the Homeland Security subcommittee quickly adjourned for a floor vote. After the hearing, Sheriff Baca shrugged off the confrontation.

"People who are misinformed are going to have opinions," he said. "But when a member of Congress is that misinformed, you gotta question whether or not they understand what their constitutional obligations are when it comes to public safety. Which apparently are not very much."

Congressman Souder's office declined to comment on the exchange.