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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher faces hostile crowd during panel about Russia and Trump at Politicon

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, right, and Rep. Ted Lieu, second from left, were among the speakers at a Politicon panel titled "From Russia with Trump." (Christina Bellantoni / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, right, and Rep. Ted Lieu, second from left, were among the speakers at a Politicon panel titled "From Russia with Trump." (Christina Bellantoni / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher on Sunday braved a crowd of politically engaged Southern Californians for a panel called "From Russia with Trump." 

It started with boos for the congressman and went downhill from there. 

“Let’s avoid outright hostility,” moderator Vince Houghton told the audience in the Civic Auditorium at the Pasadena Convention Center, where the Politicon convention was held this weekend.

Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) said he appreciated being able to speak with people "who obviously don't like me" on the topic, one from which he has not backed down even as he's been in the headlines for his pro-Russia positions. 

The crowd wasn't having it. They heckled him. "Shame on you!" they shouted. They called for “town hall meetings” in his district, 50 miles from the convention. They called him "paranoid." They hissed and they laughed. 

Organizers for Politicon, in its third year, said more than 10,000 attended. Not everyone there was liberal, but this was an event which featured a popular panel on impeachment and where fans stood in long lines to take photos with MSNBC hosts.

The moderator didn't ask Rohrabacher about his own ties with Russia, or about his informal nickname: Russian President Vladimir Putin's favorite congressman.

"There are some bad guys in Russia and Putin is one of them," he said, adding there also are "bad guys" in the United States. Then he compared Putin to "Mayor Daley and his gang," presumably a reference to the late Chicago politician known for hardball tactics. 

When he was shouted down, the congressman warned, "It’s usually fascists who don’t let somebody talk."

Rohrabacher went after familiar targets, including President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. A man in the crowd shouted, “Fox News talking point!”

When it came to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe into Russia's meddling in the U.S. elections, Rohrabacher questioned the intelligence unearthed in the investigation and brought the conversation back to Clinton's controversial campaign emails. "They were not making up emails," he said. "All they were doing was releasing information that was accurate."

The congressman said he's learned not to trust American intelligence until he can verify it, and cited the reports of weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq confict to back up his point.

"You’ve got to be skeptical and you’ve got to ask for proof before you just accept something," he said.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) didn't shy away from going after his colleague. 

"You can believe Trump's CIA director, Trump's NSA director, Trump's director of national intelligence. Or you can believe Dana Rohrabacher," Lieu said. The crowd applauded.

Rohrabacher scored a point on the rest of the panel when he challenged if they had actually been to Russia. When they admitted they had not, he boasted of his work for President Reagan and his role as chairman of the "emerging threats" subcommittee in the House.

"We have people here who are advocating policy and they have not been to Russia," the congressman said. 

Acknowledging the political leanings of the audience and his fellow panelists, Houghton took a moment at the close of the panel to thank Rohrabacher for showing up in front of such an unfriendly crowd. 

"He is on an island up here right now ... he has done an exceptional job," the moderator said.

7:30 a.m.: This post was updated with information about the convention size.

This post was originally published at 3 a.m.

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