Fact check: Mark Robinson says Josh Stein has been 'derelict in his duty' as attorney general

Posted November 3, 2021 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated November 3, 2021 5:49 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is accusing the state’s top prosecutor of doing his job in bad faith.

Robinson took aim at North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein during an interview with conservative pundits Diamond and Silk. Robinson told them he follows his “religious convictions,” and claimed that Democrats such as Gov. Roy Cooper follow their “political convictions.”

“It's the same way with our attorney general,” Robinson said around the 10-minute mark of this video, adding:

“His deeply held political convictions cause him to go after his political enemies, who he believes committed the acts on January 6th. Meanwhile, those folks here in Raleigh and Winston who were committing acts of terrorism on our streets a couple summers ago, he’s said nothing about it and was derelict in his duty in prosecuting any of those people.”

Robinson, a Republican, has said he’s 95% sure he’ll run for governor in 2024. Stein is expected to run for governor on the Democratic side.

Some of Robinson’s statements could benefit from more clarity. But his office didn’t return calls or emails from PolitiFact North Carolina.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Robinson is accusing Stein of pursuing some people who commit violence while failing to speak out or even prosecute others who commit violence. Not only does Robinson get some facts wrong, he misrepresents the extent of the attorney general’s power.

Let’s go over the various parts of his claim.

Stein and Capitol stormers

Shortly after protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked for the public’s assistance “in identifying individuals who made unlawful entry into the U.S. Capitol building and committed various other alleged criminal violations.”

Robinson said Stein decided to “go after” the people who stormed the Capitol. That’s not exactly right.

Stein invited people who might recognize Jan. 6 protestors in media coverage to report information to the attorney general’s office.

“Our office received a number of calls from North Carolinians who wanted to share their opinion and/or tips about the Jan. 6 insurrection,” spokeswoman Laura Brewer told PolitiFact NC in an email.

Then, as vice president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Stein signed a letter to Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen stating that he and other attorneys generals would “continue to do our part to repair the damage done to institutions and build a more perfect union.”

More than 650 people face federal charges in connection with the Capitol breach on Jan. 6. As a state attorney, Stein wouldn’t be involved in actually prosecuting those federal cases.

The attorney general’s office merely “referred the tips we received to the FBI,” spokesperson Nazneed Ahmed said. Ahmed emailed a statement from Stein, who says he viewed helping the FBI as an effort to protect the country’s laws.

“The insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol not only destroyed property and defiled the most important building in our democracy, they tried to overturn an election,” Stein’s statement to PolitiFact NC said. “We cannot allow those who promote the big lie to cover up what happened and its profound implications for American democracy.”

Stein and protestors

Robinson referred to people “who were committing acts of terrorism on our streets a couple summers ago.” He was likely referring to violence that broke out in late May 2020 as people protested a Minnesota police officer’s murder of George Floyd.

Robinson claimed that Stein “said nothing” about that violence. That’s inaccurate. Stein released a statement about the protests, which he posted on Facebook on June 1. While Stein recognized the harms of systemic racism, he also condemned violence.

“The overwhelming majority of protesters are protesting because they want things to get better – and they’re prepared to work to make it so,” Stein’s 2020 statement said. “Others are exploiting these moments for their own agenda, forcing many already struggling small businesses to bear the cost. That is unacceptable and wrongdoers should be held accountable, but it will not distract from the work we have to do to heal our nation.”

Robinson said Stein has been “derelict in his duty in prosecuting any of those people.” That also appears to be inaccurate.

Stein’s office says state law blocks the attorney general from prosecuting local charges unless the case is referred to the attorney general’s office by a local district attorney. And Ahmed said Stein hasn’t received any such requests.

“The Attorney General may not, absent an invitation from a district attorney, prosecute a person or entity for a state law crime in the state’s trial courts,” according to Shea Riggsbee Denning, director of the North Carolina Judicial College at UNC.

That interpretation is backed-up by the state Supreme Court, Denning told PolitiFact NC in an email. She wrote about the case in 2018.

“The Supreme Court explained in State v. Camacho, 329 N.C. 589 (1991), that the elected district attorney has exclusive discretion and authority to determine whether to permit the prosecution of any case by the special prosecution division of the attorney general’s office,” she said.

Our ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly False

Robinson said Stein decided to “go after his political enemies” who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, but has “said nothing” about violent protesters “and has been derelict in his duty in prosecuting any of those people.”

Robinson embellished Stein’s role in finding people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. The attorney general’s office, which doesn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute federal charges, merely collected and relayed tips to the FBI.

Robinson is wrong about Stein staying “silent” about violent protests in North Carolina. He released a statement in June. He also appears to be wrong about Stein being “derelict in his duty” to prosecute violent protesters. Stein’s office says it hasn’t received a request to participate in a local case, which it would legally need in order to get involved.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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