Fact check: NC Lt. Gov. Robinson says AG Stein has been 'derelict' in duty over protests
In this week's fact check of state and local politics, we turn our attention to claims made by Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson regarding Democratic State Attorney General Josh Stein. Talking to the conservative pundits Diamond and Silk on the Right Side Broadcasting Network last month, Robinson said this:
"His deeply held political conviction caused him to go after his political enemies who he believes committed the acts on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, those folks here in Raleigh and Winston(-Salem) who are committing acts of terrorism on our streets a couple summers ago? He said nothing about it and was derelict in his duty in prosecuting any of those people."
Robinson recently said he's "95% sure" he's running for governor in 2024, and Stein is also expected to run for governor. WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks with Paul Specht of WRAL to check on the accuracy of Robinson's comment.
Marshall Terry: OK, Paul. So, Robinson mentioned the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. What about the other incidents he mentioned where he said people from Raleigh and Winston were "committing acts of terrorism" on the streets? What is he talking about there?
Paul Specht: Well, we reached out to him because that statement is pretty vague and dramatic. I mean, "acts of terrorism" seems like a pretty big deal. We're not aware of any actual acts of terrorism, by definition. We can only assume he was talking about the protests of the murder of George Floyd back in May 2020.
If people will remember, right after George Floyd's death, there were marches in Raleigh and Winston-Salem and other cities — Charlotte. Some protesters got out of hand. You know, like vandalizing businesses and even setting cars ablaze and clashing with police officers. We assume that's what he was referencing back in 2020.
Terry: So Robinson says Stein was derelict in his duty, prosecuting those protesters who took part in demonstrations in North Carolina. Again, at least that's who we assume he's talking about. Is that true, though? Does Stein have the authority to prosecute those protesters?
Specht: That's the question. And the answer is no. Not unless he is invited to participate in the case. State law gives the authority to prosecute local cases like this, like vandalism or destruction of property case in Winston or Raleigh, or any other city or town. That all goes to the local district attorney. And the attorney general cannot just pick and choose which ones to participate in or which ones to take the lead in, unless those local cases are referred to him by the local D.A.. Now, they might do that if their office has some sort of conflict of interest or if they don't have the manpower. You know, there's a few reasons they might consider doing that, but it's rare.
Terry: Did any of that happen with these cases? Did any local DA's reach out to Stein to get involved?
Specht: Stein's office says no. And so we're sort of taking them at their word here. Otherwise, we'd have to call every D.A. in the state. To our knowledge, no.
Terry: Now what about the other protesters that Robinson mentioned? Now those are the ones who stormed the Capitol back in January. Did Stein prosecute any of them? And again, can he even do that?
Specht: So back when Jan. 6 happened this year, if you'll remember, the FBI and even the local police in Washington, D.C., they asked for the public's help in identifying a lot of the people who stormed the Capitol. And so in order to help, the Attorney General's office invited people to send them tips, and then they just relayed that information to the FBI.
So again, in the cases involving people who stormed the Capitol and damaged that property, those are mostly federal charges. And so a state attorney general would not be involved in prosecuting them.
Terry: And one more thing: Robinson said Stein has been silent about the protests that occurred in North Carolina. Is that true?
Specht: No, that's not true, either. If you'll remember, those protests happened back in late May 2020. Stein released a statement about the protests, and he posted it to Facebook on June 1, and he said the overwhelming majority of protesters are wanting to make things better and draw attention to injustices. But he pointed out that others "are exploiting these moments for their own agenda and forcing many already struggling small businesses to bear the cost. That is unacceptable, and wrongdoers should be held accountable."
Terry: So how do you rate these claims by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson?
Specht: Altogether, we rated that "mostly false." And we really looked into this is a three part claim, if you will. He said Stein decided to "go after his political enemies" that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. That's the one little sliver, little nugget of truth there is that someone could argue, Hey, Stein opened up a tip line. In a very general sense, he's going after them, you'd have to use those words pretty liberally, but all of those tips and all of that information was then given to the FBI. Stein is not involved in prosecuting those cases.
Second claim was that Stein said nothing about the protests back in May 2020. Again, Robinson was vague in describing these protests, but Stein was not silent. He put out a statement condemning wrongdoers and people who were vandalizing small businesses, specifically.
And then the last and biggest claim was, he said Stein has been derelict in his duty by not prosecuting those people who got violent during the protests in Raleigh and Winston and other North Carolina cities in 2020. That misrepresents the attorney general's role. They do not have the authority to go around picking and choosing people to prosecute around the state. They have to wait to be invited to these cases by the local district attorney. And Stein's office says they have not received any invitation to participate in those cases. Which, again, he would need to get involved.
So with all that under consideration, that's why we give all these claims a "mostly false" rating.
Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.
Specht: Thank you for having me.
Terry: That's Paul Specht of WRAL. These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesday on WFAE's "Morning Edition."