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RSC Members Reflect on Paul Teller’s Departure

Dozens of prominent conservatives off Capitol Hill are rushing to the defense of Paul Teller, the longtime executive director of the Republican Study Committee who was fired on Wednesday.

Republicans inside the halls of Congress, however, are split.

Some members have expressed sympathy for the man they considered a friend and ally.

“I’ll tell you, my first reaction to hearing the news was, ‘How can I hire him?'” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

Others said he had a history of undermining committee confidentiality agreements, leaking conversations to outside groups and actively working against the RSC when it was pushing a strategy with which he disagreed.

“Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long to catch up to him,” said one veteran RSC member.

RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., asked Teller to resign, effectively immediately, on Wednesday morning, on the basis of those allegations. He announced the news at the weekly RSC meeting later on Wednesday afternoon.

“When I ran to restore the RSC as a member-driven organization, we obviously got a lot of history, a lot of members interested in advancing the conservative agenda and that’s what our focus is,” Scalise, who is just finishing up his first term as chairman, told CQ Roll Call. “And we all rely on staff and we have to have a full trust of our staff. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case, and all the current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee support this decision, as well as the founders.”

By Wednesday evening, more than 50 high-profile conservatives and tea party affiliates — among them Heritage Action for America CEO Mike Needham, RedState Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson and FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe — had signed onto a statement deploring Teller’s termination.

“Let us be clear. Paul Teller has the 100% support of the conservative movement and conservatives across America. We are saddened and outraged that an organization that purports to represent conservatives in Congress would dismiss a staff member for advancing conservatism and working with conservatives outside Congress,” they said in the statement. “Given this action … it is clear that the conservative movement has come under attack on Capitol Hill.”

Many of the statement’s co-signers were already on the offensive: Teller’s firing came on the heels of sharp comments from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, against the strong-arming of conservative outside groups like Heritage Action, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.

“They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” said Boehner, who on Thursday followed up by saying those groups have “lost all credibility.”

But many House Republicans who affiliate themselves with the RSC don’t see a connection between this “anti-outside group” sentiment and Scalise’s decision.

“These are totally separate issues,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., referring to Teller’s alleged confidentiality breaches and the extent to which his politics veered farther toward the right than those of some members. “It had nothing to do with that. It was just a personnel issue.

“I think it’s unfortunate and we need to be focused as a conservative movement,” she continued. “It’s important that we work together.”

“It is imperative that our Members are able to speak freely and share our ideas without the threat of their private discussions being leaked,” said fellow RSC Rep. Renee Ellmers of NorthCarolina, in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “When the chairman is presented with evidence of this betrayal to our members and the values of our committee, he is absolutely justified in terminating that employee and taking any necessary steps to ensure that private information between members is respected and confidential.”

Some RSC members wouldn’t comment on what they did or didn’t know about Teller’s alleged breaches of trust, but said they trusted Scalise’s judgement.

“Paul Teller is a great guy [who’s] been great for the conservative movement, but I support Steve and everything he’s doing,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Scalise’s immediate predecessor at the helm of the RSC.

Others were even more noncommittal than that, which could, at least in part, be due to the fact that Scalise reportedly did not share his rationale for terminating Teller’s employment at the Wednesday afternoon RSC meeting. Rather, Scalise asked that members follow up with him directly if they had any questions or wanted more information.

“Everything is hearsay evidence,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. “Nobody’s told me exactly what did or did not happen.”

But even those, like Huelskamp, who lament Teller’s departure, aren’t explicitly calling the ex-RSC executive director a scapegoat for the conservative movement as are so many outside activists, nor are they explicitly questioning Scalise’s judgment in asking him to leave.

“I’m disappointed because we want our best people, and he is one of the best people around this town,” said Huelskamp. “I don’t know enough of the details, but for the people who let him go, Paul was here before they were here, and he’ll still be around here, still making a difference.”

“He’s been such a tremendous asset for the Republican Study Committee,” added Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. “He’s a man of integrity … I believe in Paul Teller.”

CQ Roll Call reached out to Teller in an email on Thursday.

“No comment for now,” he replied.

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