The best solution to investigating the events related to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol would have been a nonpartisan outside commission, which was used several times to examine critical issues and key events. But Republicans shot that effort down in the Senate, using the filibuster to defeat the proposal. With an independent commission off the table, Democrats in the House turned to the next best option: a select committee that would have the authority to reach beyond the limitations of standard committees to collect the evidence necessary to understand the events that led up to a vicious mob of paramilitary white supremacists creeping through the halls of Congress hunting for political opponents to hang.
When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi formed the House Select Committee investigating the insurgency, Republicans had another chance to cooperate. Instead, minority leader Kevin McCarthy attempted to sabotage the committee by planting it with people who were not only dedicated to seeing the effort derailed but representatives who are extremely likely to end up as witnesses testifying before that committee.
And now that the committee—the bipartisan committee, which includes two Republicans who defied McCarthy to join in finding the truth—has requested electronic records on Jan. 6 to discover who was communicating with Trump and with the insurgents, McCarthy has stepped in again. Only this time, he’s not trying to threaten Pelosi or break the committee. That ship has sailed. This time, McCarthy is threatening telecommunications companies and social media companies, telling them that if they cooperate with the investigation, they will be punished when and if the Republicans return to power.
It’s a desperate, ugly ploy—that only shows exactly how terrified Kevin McCarthy is of the truth coming out.
As CNN reports, McCarthy has issued a statement claiming that if the companies turn over information in response to a congressional subpoena, they would be “in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States.” However, when asked about what last the companies would be violating, McCarthy had no reply. Instead, he just ended with the ominous threat that “a Republican majority will not forget.”
The problem for McCarthy is that federal law lies with the committee, which is fully within its rights to issue subpoenas for records connected to the topic of the investigation. And in fact, the committee hasn’t yet asked for telecom records from anyone. Despite McCarthy’s blunt attempt to bully companies into noncompliance, all that the committee requests is that telecom companies preserve these records in case they are needed.
Even so, just edging around these requests has already promoted Jim Jordan to get nervous enough to admit that he talked to Donald Trump multiple times on Jan. 6. It now appears that Jordan, along with Matt Gaetz, called Trump while huddled in the House “safe room” and begged him to call off the insurgents.
But the real call that McCarthy doesn’t want to talk about is the one he made to Trump on Jan. 6. As NBC News reported in February, McCarthy and Trump engaged in an “expletive-filled” call in which McCarthy got pissed off after Trump breezily claimed that it was Antifa ransacking the Capitol. “Who the f—k do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy is reported to have said. But when it came down to getting Trump to halt his followers before they got their hands on a Representative or two, Trump just replied. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
For a few days following these events, McCarthy maintained his concern about the potential fall of democracy, or at least the potential stretching of his own neck. But within a few weeks, he was at Mar-a-Lago, apologizing to Trump for having the temerity to allow something as unimportance as the continuation of representative democracy to get in the way of Trump’s fun.
In response to reporters’ questions about that day, McCarthy has given answers like “my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president,” which sounds like McCarthy is claiming executive privilege—except he can’t. Executive privilege does not extend to conversations held with members of the legislative branch.
The truth is, if the select committee asks telecoms to turn over McCarthy’s phone records for that day, they are legally obligated to provide them. Chairman Bennie Thompson has made it clear that the contents of that conversation between Trump and McCarthy are of interest to the committee. At an absolute bare minimum, calls like the one McCarthy and Jordan made show that: 1) Republicans understood that the people attacking the building were not Antifa and were Trump supporters, 2) those Republican representatives believed the insurgents were acting at Trump’s request and could be halted by Trump.
If McCarthy is called to testify before the committee, he has two options: testify or claim the right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment. Of course, that second claim would be an admission that McCarthy believes he might be charged with some crime in connection with the events, which would in itself be … not the best look.
Even so, it’s a better look than threatening U.S. companies with destruction because they obeyed a legal request. Seems like the best thing these companies, and every other company concerned about the rule of law, can do is to help make sure there never is another Republican majority.
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