House Speaker Mike Johnson’s ‘Adopted’ 40-Year-Old Son in Court on Charges of Running Illegal Cannabis Business
Josh Boswell and Ben Ashford, Daily Mail, November 3, 2023
The ‘adopted’ black son of new House Speaker Mike Johnson has spoken out for the first time in an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com.
Michael Tirrell James said he would ‘probably be in prison’ were it not for Johnson – after he appeared in a Los Angeles court Wednesday on charges of running an illegal cannabis business and possessing brass knuckles.
James has never taken part in publicity for Johnson’s political campaigns, and little has been known about the 40-year-old father of four.
But now DailyMail.com can reveal how the top GOP lawmaker and his wife Kelly informally adopted James after meeting him while doing charitable community work in Louisiana in the 1990s.
James went on to have a string of conflicts with law enforcement, beginning just a few years after the Johnsons took him in, and continuing to this day.
His rap sheet extends back to 2003 and includes a long list of drug-related and other petty crimes, some of which landed him in jail, DailyMail.com can reveal.
These are Florida arrests alone for the “adopted” son of Speaker Mike Johnson. Extensive record is an understatement. pic.twitter.com/36FfK8vYJK
— Still Boneless (@still_boneless) November 3, 2023
The 51-year-old House Speaker, elected October 25 after three weeks of confusion following the ousting of previous Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has revealed he informally adopted James, a Baton Rouge then-teenager, and raised him during the first few years of his marriage.
James told DailyMail.com: ‘If the Johnsons hadn’t taken me in as a teenager, my life would look very different today. I would probably be in prison or I might not have made it at all.’
The Louisiana Republican congressman first met James in 1996 while volunteering with Young Life, a Christian ministry catering to middle and high school teens.
The future speaker, then a 24-year-old law school student, became a mentor for the 14-year-old boy, a source close to the Speaker’s office said.
When James became homeless in 1999 age 16, newlyweds Mike and Kelly Johnson took him in, filing papers with the local Baton Rouge district court to become his legal guardians.
His life appears to have gotten back on track after the informal adoption. He earned his G.E.D. and graduated from a Job Corps program in 2002, and even ‘began to refer to the Johnsons as his parents, and they regarded him as a son,’ the source said.
The Johnsons later had four biological children: Jack, Will, Hannah, and Abigail.
Residency records show James lived with the Johnsons at the first home they owned, a three-bed cottage on Chasefield Avenue in Baton Rouge which the politician inherited from his mother in 2000.
But after the family moved back to Shreveport, James’s legal troubles began.
He spent time living with his older brother and his biological mother, appearing on residency records in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida.
From 2003 through 2010, James was convicted in Volusia County, Florida, of a series of petty crimes including possession of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, trespassing, retail theft, possession of a concealed weapon, driving without a license, and violating a restraining order preventing him seeing a 16-year-old girl he was ‘dating’ when he was 23.
While the childhoods of the Johnson’s four biological kids were documented in family photos posted on Facebook, James was not among them.
His 20s are instead pictured in a series of more than a dozen mugshots for his numerous arrests.
In recent years James moved to Los Angeles, where he is raising his own four children.
His criminal record continued there too.
Papers from Los Angeles Superior Court reveal James was charged in June last year with two counts of ‘unlicensed commercial cannabis activity’, and possession of ‘metal knuckles or brass knuckles’.
He was due to appear before a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday but in the end his case was dealt with by his court-appointed attorney, who previously pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
The judge decided to ‘divert’ the charges, allowing them to be dropped after 12 months if James served 20 hours of community service and avoided employment at any cannabis farms.
A source close to the Speaker’s office said he is currently working as a Certified Nurse Assistant.
‘I always felt loved like I was a part of their family, James told DailyMail.com. ‘They have been there for me when I have been lost and in the deepest valleys, and I know it was hard at times to constantly help someone who didn’t always get it right.
‘I thank God all the time for giving them both the strength, patience, and unwavering faith that inspired me to do better and be better.
‘I respect, love, and admire them both.’
Speaker Johnson told DailyMail.com that he believes ‘God intended for Michael to be a part of our lives.’
‘Kelly and I have always seen him as one of our own. Despite any mistakes he’s made, we love Michael and are blessed to have him in our family,’ he said.
Johnson, first elected as congressman for Louisiana’s fourth district in 2016, has described the difficulty his adopted son faced as a black man in America.
‘I have walked with him through discrimination that he has had to endure over the years and the hurdles he sometimes faced,’ Johnson told a House committee in 2019 while giving testimony against slavery reparations. ‘I know all this because I was with him.’
He claimed that James also opposed reparations due to his belief in the ‘important tradition of self-reliance.’
The following year, when protests over racism erupted across the country in the days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Johnson struck a diplomatic tone that set him apart from his deeply conservative peers.
‘I’ve thought often through all these ordeals over the last couple of weeks about the difference in the experiences between my two 14-year-old sons,’ Johnson, then an obscure congressman in his second term, said in an interview with PBS two weeks after Floyd’s death.
‘Michael being a black American and Jack being white Caucasian. They have different challenges. My son Jack has an easier path. He just does.’
Far right activist Laura Loomer called Johnson an ‘undercover Democrat’ over the comments, and posted on Twitter: ‘What type of MAGA Republican says something like this?’
Johnson told Fox anchor Sean Hannity this month that James struggled due to his ‘troubled background’.
‘Having raised two 14-year-old boys in America and the state of Louisiana, they had different experiences,’ he said.
‘I’m not so sure it was all about skin color, but it is about culture and society. Michael, our first, came from a really troubled background and had a lot of challenges.’
Johnson’s surprise election as Speaker led to increased scrutiny and renewed questions about his ‘adopted’ son.
Last week his communications director, Corrine Day, told Newsweek that the congressman had kept quiet about James to respect his privacy.
‘When Speaker Johnson first ran for Congress in 2016, he and his wife, Kelly, spoke to their son Michael – who they took in as newlyweds when Michael was 14 years old.
‘At the time of the Speaker’s election to Congress, Michael was an adult with a family of his own. He asked not to be involved in their new public life. The Speaker has respected that sentiment throughout his career and maintains a close relationship with Michael to this day.’
Court records say he currently lives in a four-bed home in the south Los Angeles suburb of Carson, near Compton, though he and the current residents said he no longer lives there.
A 41-year-old woman who resides there previously lived with James in Stafford, Texas, though it is unclear whether she is the mother of the four children Johnson’s spokeswoman said James fathered.
Michael James began to gravitate towards drugs and petty crime despite the intervention of Johnson and his wife.
He was 20 years old when cops in Daytona Beach, Florida, arrested him for felony possession of cocaine in October 2003.
James was represented by a public defender but failed to show up for his trial at Volusia County Circuit Court the following year.
He eventually pleaded guilty to possessing drug paraphernalia and spent 37 days in jail, according to county records.
James would rack up further arrests for trespass, possession of marijuana and multiple thefts in Florida, where he appeared to be living for much of his 20s, and in his native Louisiana.
In March 2006 he tried to steal sneakers and clothes from a department store in Daytona Beach.
The following April he attempted to drive away from a gas station without paying for fuel.
In 2008 James was searched by cops outside a Speedway venue and found to have a butterfly knife in his pocket, earning him ten days in jail for possessing a concealed weapon.
James spent further spells behind bars for breaching his probation by testing positive for marijuana use and failing to undertake anger management classes.
When he started dating an underage girl he met over the internet in 2007, her father, Robert Guarnaccia, sought an injunction to keep the ‘adult predator’ away from his 16-year-old daughter.
‘I told the defendant on April 12 to stop picking Kerry up from the school,’ Guarnaccia stated in his petition.
‘He told me that he will do what [the] f**k he wants to do and don’t get in my way or you dead. She is my b***h.’
James continued to menace Guarnaccia, on one occasion demanding that he come outside his Ormond Beach, Florida home and threatening to beat his ‘crippled ass,’ it’s alleged.
‘I am a handicapped person who cannot fight a 27-year-old healthy man. Please help my family,’ Guarnaccia pleaded with the court.
A permanent injunction was granted but James breached it multiple times throughout 2007 and 2008, court records reveal.
Neither Guarnaccia, nor his daughter, who is now in her 30s, could be reached for comment.
By 2010, when James was arrested for possessing what police determined was a ‘scale used to measure narcotics’, he had faced 18 criminal cases over seven years in Florida alone.