WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Harris said he was unaware of Chuck Johnson’s "previous associations" before meeting recently with the right-wing figure, who was banned from Twitter after the site said he threatened Baltimore civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson.
“I am unaware of his previous associations, but we had a discussion involving his business with genetic sequencing," Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, said Thursday in an emailed statement. "Of course, I disavow and condemn white supremacy and anti-Semitism.”
Johnson, who has described himself as an investigative journalist, has been denounced as an Internet troll who promotes fake news and inflammatory conspiracy theories, and for questioning details about the Holocaust.
Last year, a court struck down his lawsuit against Twitter, which banned him in 2015 for inviting people to donate to "taking out" Mckesson. Johnson said the case was partly about freedom of online speech.
Johnson could not be reached Thursday through a Massachusetts number listed for him. Politico wrote last year that Johnson said he’s not a Holocaust denier and “they call me a white nationalist and I’m not.”
Roe spokeswoman Whitley Alexander told The Baltimore Sun that the meeting lasted "less than 10 minutes" and was set up after Johnson "indicated that he had a company that is working on genomic sequencing, and he advocated for more publicly-available sequenced genomes."
She said in an email that Roe "would not have taken the meeting had he been aware of Mr. Johnson’s previously expressed views — which he believes are abhorrent, were not alluded to in the meeting, and were not readily discoverable when Congressman Roe’s staff looked into the name 'Charles Johnson,' which is how he was presented."
During the meeting, according to a statement from Roe's office, Johnson "shared what seemed like legitimate information about the work his company is doing and advocated for increasing the number of sequenced genomes for research."
The meeting came the day after the House rebuked Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King for racist comments in an interview.
Last year, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz was criticized by some in his district for giving Johnson a ticket to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech. Gaetz said, according to media accounts, that he didn't know who Johnson was when Johnson showed up at his office unexpectedly. He said he was planning to take his father but invited Johnson because his father was ill.