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Congressional staffer denies pushing visitor UPDATED!

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A heated exchange during a visit to the office of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., led to a staffer putting his hands on Teri Christoph, executive director of Smart Girl Politics, in order to get her to put her camera down, reported Jillian Bandes of TownHall.

In a phone interview with The Examiner, the staffer, press secretary George Burke, said that claims that he had “pushed” Christoph were untrue. When asked about the report in TownHall, he replied, “Is that a reporter? Some right-wing blog?” Yes to both questions, but was the claim true?

“She came in and whipped out a camera. Staff people told her, 'we don't want you to use a camera in here.' I put a hand on her shoulder same way I put on my daughter's and of course she said that she was going to the media,” he said.

The scuffle started when Christoph joined a number of Connolly's constituents in his office. A younger staffer was distributing pens to enable them to leave a message for their congressman. Christoph, Burke said, had started “badgering” the staffer, preventing him from being able to further help other constituents.

“Voices were raised, so I came out of my office and told her politely to put away the camera,” he said. “I didn't even ask her to leave. Just to put away the camera.”

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I asked what the policy was about having cameras in the office. “Only credentialed media. And I'm sure you know about the rules in the House regarding credentialed press,” he replied. Were media cameras allowed into the office? “Yes, throughout the day.” But what was the impetus about having her remove her own camera? “It was a decision we made. There was no reasoning behind it.”

Burke said that Christoph was the only problematic constituent. “Others came in and were certainly very spirited, but it was a good discussion overall.”

Asked about Connolly's decision on the health care bill, Burke insisted that the congressman will not “make a final decision until he sees the final product.” The congressman's district, the 11th district, is the wealthiest in the nation as measured by median income. Touting Connolly's achievements in increasing surcharges in the bill to prevent higher taxes, Burke said, “We want to protect the interests of small business, and what we've been fighting for is to relieve them of that burden.”

Will he actually read the bill before voting on it? “He has read most of it, he's gone to briefings on it, and he's got several of his staffers reading it. He's not going to commit to it until he sees what new details are in it.”

UPDATED: Christoph posts her account and video

Christoph provides a detailed post on her blog of the encounter in Rep. Gerry Connolly's office this afternoon, as well as a video of the minute or so immediately before Connolly aide George Burke firmly placed his hand on her. The video makes clear that Christoph was polite and calm, at least during the captured portion of the encounter.

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