Spotlight turns to GOP’s McCarthy in Jan. 6 probe
The public spotlight around the investigation into the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 has shifted squarely onto Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the GOP leader who has emerged as the face of defiant opposition to the congressional probe into the deadly riot.
McCarthy has long been a figure of interest to the select committee given his phone call with then-President Trump amid the insurrection, in which the president allegedly suggested the pro-Trump rioters were more patriotic than the lawmakers under siege. McCarthy has acknowledged the call occurred but has repeatedly declined to discuss specific details.
The focus on his role, and any involvement from other Republicans, has only intensified over the past week, when McCarthy took the remarkable step of threatening the nation’s tech and telecom giants with unnamed repercussions if they comply with the investigators’ request to retain the phone and social media records of GOP lawmakers who actively supported the effort to block President Biden’s electoral victory.
“If companies 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,” McCarthy warned.
McCarthy, who is reportedly among the Republicans named in that request, did not specify the potential consequences — and Democrats quickly accused him of felonious attempts to impede a congressional investigation. But his aggressive resistance to examining the events of Jan. 6 has won him favor with Trump and his supporters on and off of Capitol Hill — a boost to the Republicans’ effort to retake the House, and a likely prerequisite if McCarthy is to achieve his goal of becoming Speaker in 2023.
Led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the nine-member select committee has already held one hearing into the Jan. 6 attack, featuring four police officers defending the Capitol that day, and is eyeing several more when Congress returns from its long summer recess later this month.
Meanwhile, panel members have been busy behind the scenes hunting documents related to the tragic episode, including the issuance of numerous records requests to various administrative agencies seeking communications between Trump, members of his inner circle and key Capitol Hill allies in the lead-up to the deadly riot.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the select committee, emphasized recently that the retainer request to the telecom companies is merely an investigative step, not an accusation of wrongdoing against any of the lawmakers. But she also warned that McCarthy, in threatening the companies, might have violated federal law himself.
“Aside from the fact that section 1505 of the Federal Criminal Code says it is a felony … to try and impede a congressional investigation, one would hope that the minority leader would want to get to the bottom of what happened here,” Lofgren told CNN’s Anderson Cooper after McCarthy’s remarks. “I would hope he would want to step forward and be a participant in getting the truth instead of trying to hide the truth.”
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, scrutiny of McCarthy grew more intense. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed an ethics complaint, arguing that both McCarthy and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) violated House rules by threatening to retaliate against companies complying with “legally valid documents demands and preservation requests” from the Jan. 6 panel.
“House rules require members to uphold the laws of the United States and to conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House. The threats of Reps. McCarthy and Greene do neither,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder wrote in the complaint.
McCarthy’s phone call with Trump on Jan. 6 became public that same night when the GOP leader appeared on Fox News and detailed the conversation: “As the Capitol was being overrun, I called the president and … I explained to him what was going on right now, and I asked him to go and speak to the American public, speak to these individuals, and tell them to stop.”
In reality, that exchange was much more heated as rioters smashed windows outside McCarthy’s office and attempted to breach the House floor. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) said McCarthy told her and others that as the Capitol was under siege, Trump was trying to blame antifa for the attack.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’ ”
And instead of calling off the mob, Trump at 2:24 p.m. that day tweeted that his vice president, Mike Pence, “didn’t have the courage” to block the certification of Biden’s victory. The National Guard didn’t arrive until hours after the first calls for help went out from Capitol Hill.
Herrera Beutler’s account, detailing the McCarthy-Trump call, was later entered into the record of Trump’s second impeachment trial.
The events of Jan. 6 have highlighted a dilemma facing McCarthy and his leadership team: If they cooperate with the probe, with designs to prevent another attack, they risk a backlash from Trump, who remains the party’s standard-bearer heading into the midterms; if they stand firm in Trump’s defense, they could alienate moderate voters outraged by the attack.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also a member of the Jan. 6 committee, acknowledged that panel members have discussed and debated their requests for GOP lawmakers’ records, and that there was clear precedent. In a twist, Trump’s Justice Department had seized the metadata records from Schiff, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and their top aides in a 2017-18 leak probe.
“We looked at the historic precedent and there is precedent for seeking records relating to members of Congress, most often in the context of ethics investigations. … Participating in an insurrection, an armed insurrection against the government is among the most serious ethics violations you could imagine,” Schiff recently said on MSNBC.
“At the end of the day, we’re determined that whoever was involved in this effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power should not be able to hide behind their office,” he added. “If people were not involved in trying to overturn the government they shouldn’t be concerned. But Kevin McCarthy clearly is — for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his boss, his master in Mar-a-Lago, doesn’t want it to happen.”