House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has entered dangerous new territory in warning telecom companies not to comply with lawful requests from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
McCarthy’s threat that his party “will not forget” if the companies comply sounds more like something from a Mafia thug than a political leader. An ethics probe into that threat is warranted — as are some hard questions about what potential revelations, exactly, McCarthy and his party are so afraid of.
Jan. 6 saw an unprecedented attack upon America’s seat of government, with loss of life, by a mob intent on overturning an election at the urging of a sitting president and possibly with collusion from members of Congress. The necessity of an exhaustive congressional investigation into its causes and players is beyond debate. Yet for months, McCarthy and other Republicans have acted like the accomplices that some of them may well be, downplaying the outrageousness of what happened, resisting creation of the House investigative panel and, in the Senate, filibustering an attempt to create an independent investigatory commission.
The House panel on Monday asked 35 telecom companies to retain phone records and other data that could be relevant to the investigation. It wasn’t a request for specific information, just a request to preserve any information the panel might need in the future.
Among questions the panel will be asking, its members have said, is what communications may have occurred between members of Congress and members of the mob or then-President Donald Trump before and during the Jan. 6 melee. It’s a valid question, and the House panel is legally authorized to ask it, with subpoenas if necessary.
Which makes McCarthy’s reaction all the more appalling. Especially considering that he himself talked by phone to Trump that day, and so will likely be part of the investigation.
“If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” said McCarthy — without specifying what law he thinks would be violated. In fact, failure to produce records sought by congressional subpoena, if and when it comes to that, would violate federal law. Congress seeking the preservation of such records plainly doesn’t.
If the companies ultimately turn over information, McCarthy continued, “a (future) Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”
In other words: If you comply with an investigation that could embarrass the GOP, we’ll shut you down. It is essentially a promise to abuse congressional power in retribution against private companies for obeying the law.
The House Ethics Committee, with membership evenly divided between both parties, is empowered to investigate members whose behavior brings Congress into disrepute. McCarthy has, once and for all, shown himself to be the personification of that word.