WASHINGTON – Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, has threatened to retaliate against any company that complies with the Congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot, after the panel asked dozens companies to preserve the phone and social media records of 11 far-right members of Congress who pushed to overturn the 2020 election results.
Mr McCarthy’s warning was an escalation of his efforts to thwart a full account of the deadly attack on Capitol Hill led by a pro-Trump mob, and his latest attempt to isolate the former president and Republican lawmakers examining any connection to the violence. It came after he led the GOP’s opposition to the creation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the riot, then removed five members of the Republican Congress from the select committee the Democrats created themselves, boycotting the procedure.
In the retention orders the special committee sent to 35 tech companies this week, panel members included the names of hundreds of people whose records they might want to review, including some of Donald J. Trump’s staunchest allies. in Congress, according to several of those familiar with the documents who were not authorized to speak about their contents.
The 11 Republicans are Reps Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Louie Gohmert from Texas, Jody B. Hice from Georgia, Jim Jordan from Ohio and Scott Perry from Pennsylvania.
The preservation requests were accompanied by a statement that the committee was only “gathering the facts, not alleging any wrongdoing on the part of any individual.” But the inclusion of the names of Republicans, reported earlier by CNN, said the panel plans to examine any role they may have played in fueling the violence.
“These are the people who publicly supported January 6 and the people who participated in the January 6 uprising,” Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and panel chair, said in an interview.
“We need to know exactly what their level of participation was in this event,” he said. “If you’ve helped raise funds, if you’ve provided misinformation to people, if you’ve been on a planning committee – whatever your role on January 6, I think the public has a right to know. “
The panel did not ask to keep the records of Mr McCarthy, who said he had a tense phone call with Mr Trump as crowds besieged Capitol Hill, but Mr Thompson said the name of the main Republican could yet to be added.
Mr Thompson said Mr McCarthy’s protests were “typical of someone who may or may not have been involved in January 6 and does not want this information made public.”
On Tuesday, McCarthy said Republicans “will not forget” and “hold accountable” tech companies that preserve records sought by the committee. His remarks followed denunciations of the committee’s work by Rep. Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, who called the panel’s tactics “authoritarian” and Mr. Trump, who called it a “sham partisan”.
Ms Greene threatened on Fox News that the telecommunications companies that cooperated in the investigation would be “shut down.”
Mr McCarthy has claimed, without citing a law, that it would be illegal for tech companies to cooperate with the investigation, even though congressional investigations have already obtained phone records. He said if his party won control of the House, he would use his power to punish anyone who did.
“If these companies comply with the Democratic order to hand over private information, they are breaking federal law and risk losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “If businesses still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”
Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and member of the committee, said he was stunned by Mr McCarthy’s remarks, describing them as akin to obstructing an investigation.
“He’s making threats against people who cooperate with a congressional investigation,” Raskin said. “It’s an amazing turn of events. Why would the House of Representatives minority leader not be interested in our ability to get all the facts about the January 6 attack? “
Barbara L. McQuade, a former US lawyer and law professor at the University of Michigan, called McCarthy’s allegations “baseless,” noting that the panel had not requested the content of any communication.
“He mistakenly portrays the committee as overkill in order to be able to protect its own political interests, to the detriment of Congress’ ability to do its job and the public’s confidence in our government institutions,” she said.
Over the past week, the select committee has stepped up its work, taking three wide-ranging investigative steps: a registration application to seven federal agencies focusing in part on links Mr. Trump may have had with the planning or execution of the attack; a document asking 15 social media companies for material on efforts to overthrow the elections and domestic violent extremists who may have been involved; and records retention orders, including Republican officials.
The 11 Republicans include lawmakers who led efforts to challenge the results of the Jan. 6 congressional election and those who played at least a role in the “Stop the Steal” effort to protest the results, including encouraging rallies across the country and the one in Washington whose participants attacked the Capitol.
Some of the lawmakers named in the order have continued to publicly spread the election lies that inspired the riot and to hint at the possibility of more violence to come. Mr Cawthorn falsely claimed on Sunday that the election was “rigged” and “stolen”, telling a crowd in Franklin, North Carolina that if elections were not protected in the future, it could lead to “bloodshed.”
The select committee has met twice a week, even during the Congress summer recess, as its members plan their next steps. Mr Thompson said two more hearings were underway, one to deepen the campaign of pressure that Mr Trump and his allies began to overturn President Biden’s victory, and another to explore who encouraged the militias and extremist groups coming to Washington before the assault. .
“The committee is concerned that the executive branch is relying on state officials to change the outcome of elections,” said Mr. Thompson. “The identification with national terrorist organizations and their participation and encouragement to participate in the march and the January 6 insurgency are cause for concern. “
Last week, the panel sought communications from senior Trump administration officials on attempts to place politically loyal staff in senior positions in the run-up to the attack; planning and funding for pro-Trump rallies on January 5 and 6; and other attempts to stop or slow down the process of Mr. Trump handing over the presidency to Mr. Biden.
He demanded recordings of communications between the White House and Ali Alexander, who publicized the “Stop the Steal” rallies, as well as Tom Van Flein, Mr. Gosar’s chief of staff.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and committee member, said the requests were “broad” by design, as the panel sought to produce a “full report.” He said they could be expanded to include more members of Congress if evidence emerges to suggest it is necessary.
“We know there are members who attended the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally; we know there are members who had direct communications with the president during the attack on Capitol Hill, ”he said. “There are a number of members who have very relevant information. “
On Friday, the panel sent letters to 15 social media companies – including sites where disinformation about voter fraud has spread, such as the pro-Trump website theDonald.win – to search for all documents in their possession. regarding efforts to overthrow the elections and all domestic violence. extremists associated with the rally and attack on 6 January.
The committee had previously requested files on extremist groups and militias present on Capitol Hill that day, including QAnon, the Proud Boys, Stop the Steal, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. A person familiar with the committee’s discussions said its members intend to further investigate plans for coordination between militias.
At least 10 suspected militia extremists underwent paramilitary training in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina before the violation, court documents show. Suspected domestic violent extremists also “coordinated their efforts to bring tactical supplies to the event, presumably in anticipation of the violence,” according to an April homeland security analysis obtained by The New York Times via a request by public registration filed by the Property of the People group.
“There were undoubtedly insurgent groups that were determined to commit violence,” Raskin said. “If you listen to their chatter after January. 6, it all depends on how close they got, and next time they will carry weapons.
The record preservation request sent on Monday called for telecommunications companies to keep on file information about cell tower locations, text messages and call logs, as well as information uploaded to storage systems in Canada. cloud.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat from California and committee member, said the request was “an investigation, not an accusation.”
“We’ll see what we find out,” she said. “It’s fair to say that you haven’t had 10,000 people show up and attack Capitol Police officers, mutilate them and threaten to kill the Vice President and members of Congress just because that they wanted to. There was a reason, there was a structure for it, and we have to find out all about it. “