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Fact Check: Attack ad accuses GOP congressional candidate of being attorney for Biden

Kelly Daughtry (L) and Brad Knott (R) are competing in a runoff election for the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.
Kelly Daughtry (left) and Brad Knott are competing in a runoff election for the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.

It’s time now for a fact-check of North Carolina politics. Two Republicans face each other in a primary runoff later this month for the congressional seat in North Carolina’s 13th District, which covers part of the Raleigh area.

One of the candidates, Kelly Daughtry, makes this claim about her opponent, Brad Knott, in a TV ad: “Our border is in crisis thanks to Biden. And where was never-Trumper Brad Knott? Working for Joe Biden’s Department of Justice. That’s right, Brad Knott was a lawyer for Joe Biden.”

The ad also shows an image of Knott shaking hands with President Biden with the caption “Don’t let Biden’s lawyer off the hook.”

To fact-check that, I’m joined now by Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: You focused your reporting on this claim that Knott was an attorney for Joe Biden. Just who is Brad Knott? And who is Kelly Daughtry, his opponent?

Paul Specht: Brad Knott is an assistant U.S. attorney, at least he was, between 2016 and 2023. This is his first time running for elected office. And then his opponent, Kelly Daughtry, she actually ran for this seat before, back in 2022. Daughtry is a private attorney. She's attacking Knott for working as an assistant U.S. attorney under the Biden administration.

Terry: So help me understand just where assistant U.S. attorneys fit in the justice system. Do they answer to or work for the president?

Specht: No. Assistant U.S. attorneys are sort of the rank and file of the Justice Department. They're not appointed by any politician, including the president, nor are they hired by the president.

Here's how it works: Whenever there's a new administration, a new presidential administration, the president appoints a new attorney general. He runs the Department of Justice. He also gets to appoint U.S. attorneys to run the 94 districts across the country. It's common for them to be replaced, but sometimes U.S. attorneys stay in place.

People may remember there was a congressman from Raleigh, George Holding; he prosecuted John Edwards for the scandalous things that were happening during his presidential campaign. George Holding was a Republican who served under Obama and prosecuted John Edwards. So there's that background.

Then there's assistant U.S. attorneys. They're hired by U.S. attorneys and in some indirect way, you know, a political appointee — being the U.S. attorney — often gets a say in who works there, but he does not get to come in and clean house, that's not how it works.

Let's look at Brad Knott’s case. He was hired in 2016. That year, Obama's appointee to North Carolina's Eastern District had already resigned. That's common too; when a president’s term is winding down, a lot of these political appointees jump ship. They know that, you know, in Obama's case, he couldn't run again.

When Knott was hired, there was an acting U.S. attorney, sort of a substitute U.S. attorney, if you will, and his name was John Bruce. So the man who hired Brad Knott to be an assistant U.S. attorney was not a political appointee himself. He stayed on through the end of Obama's term, through Trump's term, and then when Biden got elected, Knott said that he wanted to stay on and continue working on the big cases, seeing them through before leaving; that was his reason for staying, even during the Biden years.

Terry: Basically, if you are an assistant U.S. attorney, there's a lot of separation between you and the president, right?

Specht: That's right. There's the U.S. attorney, and then there's the attorney general, and then there's the president. Assistant U.S. attorneys are not political actors.

Terry: Now you shared some of the information you found in your reporting with the Daughtry campaign, who is attacking Knott in this ad. What was their response?

Specht: They focused on the wording of their ad, where they refer to Knott as Biden's lawyer, and they said, ‘Hey, look at this event that the Republican Party had here in Wake County. There's a clip of Brad Knott where he refers to himself as “a prosecutor under the Biden White House.”’ But if you watch it, you see he was responding to a question about how he had to compromise with Democrats just to get his job done. Knott told the crowd that he had to abide by some of the administration policies that he didn't necessarily agree with. He abided by them in order to build cases against these suspects he wanted to prosecute.

Terry: So how did you rate the claim in this ad?

Specht: Well, we focused on the ad’s claim that Brad Knott was a lawyer for Joe Biden. The Daughtry campaign made their argument that he referred to himself as a prosecutor under the Biden White House — that's still not indicative of how the organization works.

We rated that claim false because he wasn't hired by Biden, he wasn't appointed by Biden, and Biden did not have a direct influence over his cases down here on the ground in eastern North Carolina.

It's also important to note here that the ad shows an image of Knott shaking hands with Joe Biden. Knott, in his own campaign, had responded and said that image is doctored, I never shook hands with Joe Biden.

So it's really misleading for someone to put out a doctored or Photoshopped image like that to suggest Knott and Biden were buddies, or, at the very least, had the same professional goals, when in fact Brad Knott worked so far down the chain of command that they didn't even cross paths.

And there’s the fact that Daughtry’s campaign referred to Knott as a “never-Trumper.” They're basing that on the fact that Knott skipped a couple of Republican primaries in 2016 and 2020. Knott says that he voted for Trump in the general election those years. And now he's endorsed by Trump — Trump came out and posted on social media that Knott had his complete and total support, and he said Kelly Daughtry is no friend of MAGA (Make America Great Again), as he put it.

So all in all, it was a very misleading ad. The claim that Brad Knott was Biden's lawyer — it's just really disingenuous and misleads people about the nature of assistant U.S. attorneys. And so that's why we rated it false.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.