Published March 22, 2010
A man was arrested for spitting on a congressman. No, he was let go.
Protesters shouted the "n-word" at black lawmakers. Witnesses say it never happened.
A gay congressman was called a slur. Yet he was accused of swearing at someone in the crowd before that.
These are the conflicting claims that have emerged from the series of tense encounters lawmakers say they endured with Tea Party protesters on Capitol Hill Saturday, in the final raucous hours before Congress approved the health care reform bill.
Claims that the protesters hurled anti-gay and racist epithets at them tore through the blogosphere in the run-up to the vote and were used to decry the protests, but Tea Party supporters are challenging those accounts, saying they didn't hear them, or at least that those responsible were not part of the Tea Party protest.
"Never did I hear any type of racial slur," said William Owens, a black Tea Party activist from Nevada who joined in the D.C. protests Saturday.
Here's what is known about Saturday's run-ins:
Several black lawmakers say that as they were walking by protesters on their way to a procedural vote on Capitol Hill, a group of demonstrators shouted at them and called them the n-word.
"They were just shouting, harassing," Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a legend of the civil rights movement, said.
In addition, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a black congressman from Missouri, said he was spit on by someone in the crowd who was later detained.
Plus someone shouted a gay slur at Frank in the hallway of a House office building.
"Today's protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said.
Now here's where those accounts are called into question:
Though the claims of racist epithets against Lewis and other congressmen drew a lot of media attention, witnesses say they never heard such language and YouTube videos have surfaced that show protesters booing and shouting "Kill the Bill" but not shouting the n-word.
Kay Fischer, a protester from North Carolina, said she was watching the black lawmakers walk by and, like Owens, heard nothing of the sort.
Asked about such claims, Emanuel spokeswoman Mary Petrovic noted that the online videos of the incident are under a minute — and so don't show the entire encounter. She and stood by her boss' account.
"He heard slurs," she said.
There's another oddity about that incident. Cleaver's office initially claimed that a protester was arrested after spitting on him, but that the congressman decided not to press charges.
However, U.S. Capitol Police said the protester was never arrested. He was only detained and put in handcuffs, then released.
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, told FoxNews.com the individual was released because Cleaver couldn't identify him.
"There were no elements of a crime, and the individual wasn't able to be positively identified," she said. "(Cleaver) was unable to positively identify."
Asked about the Capitol Police account, Petrovic said it's not that Cleaver couldn't identify the suspect. It's that he wouldn't identify the suspect, because the police would have been "obligated" to make an arrest, which he didn't want.
"He was aware of that obligation and so did not make an identification," she said. "He saw who did it and he could have identified that person if necessary. But he chose not to."
As for the initial claim that the the individual was arrested, Petrovic said staff members mistakenly presumed he had been arrested because he was in handcuffs.
The account of the run-in with Frank gets a little more bizarre.
Though reporters heard someone call the Massachusetts Democrat, who is gay, a "faggot," and Frank and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer publicly condemned the slur, Fischer said the incident was not so cut and dry.
Most importantly, Fischer said Frank was the first to start using salty language.
She said she and a half-dozen other protesters were waiting outside a committee room in the Longworth House Office Building on Saturday for about 45 minutes when Frank finally emerged. He was mobbed by reporters, she said, and the protesters started shouting things like, "Kill the bill." Then she said Frank snapped at them.
"He looked at me and said, 'F--- you,'" she said.
Shortly after that, she said, a tall man with brown hair, who hadn't been chanting with the other protesters at all, walked up and said "fag" to Frank.
This has started to sprout some conspiracy theories.
Fischer said the protesters immediately admonished him and told him not to say things like that.
"I have gay friends. ... There were a bunch of people moaning like, 'Oh God,'" she said.
But she said the guy "disappeared" quickly and that was the end of it.
Fischer said she has no idea where he came from, and alleged he was a plant, though she couldn't prove it.
"I think it was staged," she said.
Frank's office was unable to provide clarity.
Frank spokesman Harry Gural said his office does not know the identity of the man who shouted the slur but said it's "highly unlikely" that anything was staged.
And he couldn't fathom his boss swearing at a protester.
"I really doubt that," Gural said. "I've never heard him use that language with people before."