The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol escalated its clash with Republican lawmakers on Monday, recommending a formal ethics inquiry into House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and other top allies of former President Trump for their refusal to cooperate with the probe.
The recommendations to the House Ethics Committee mark a milder step than the criminal referrals to the Justice Department that the select committee made Monday against Trump and several members of the former president’s inner circle for their role in the Capitol riot.
But as a political matter, the ethics complaints will shine a bright light on the actions of McCarthy and three other prominent House Republicans — Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) — in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the attack. Those actions ranged from attending Jan. 6 planning meetings with Trump at the White House, as Jordan had done, to having conversations with the then-president in the midst of the riot, as McCarthy had done.
The committee had initially requested that those four lawmakers, among others, appear voluntarily before the panel. When the Republicans refused, the panel issued subpoenas for their testimony in May, almost a year into the sweeping investigation into Trump’s efforts to remain in power after his 2020 defeat.
None of them complied with the inquest, arguing the select committee was, from the start, a political witch hunt orchestrated by Trump’s adversaries — most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — to damage Trump’s chances of winning another term in the White House. Heightening those accusations, Trump last month announced his entrance into the 2024 presidential race.
During Monday’s gathering on Capitol Hill, the last in a long series of public forums to air its findings, the select committee argued that ignoring congressional subpoenas — even for sitting lawmakers — sets a dangerous precedent that will hobble Congress’s powers to function effectively as an oversight body.
It’s unclear if the Ethics panel will launch an investigation based on the select committee’s new recommendations. Unlike most other standing committees, membership on the Ethics panel is evenly divided between the parties. And the committee strives — at least rhetorically — to avoid the divisive partisan politicking that practically defines some of the other panels.
Yet with just weeks left in the 117th Congress, there’s a small and closing window for the committee to launch any new probes while Democrats are still in the House majority. And it’s unlikely that a GOP-led Ethics panel would take the remarkable step of investigating the role of sitting Republicans in an event as polarizing as the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Indeed, in a sign of how partisan Jan. 6 has become, McCarthy — who is vying to become Speaker next year and has outsize influence over committee chair spots — is vowing to investigate the Jan. 6 investigation as a first order of business in the new Congress.
Heading into Monday’s forum, panel members seemed resigned to the idea that they had little recourse against McCarthy and the other Republicans who refused to cooperate in the short window before the panel sunsets.
“We don’t have a lot of time right now,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of the two Republicans on the select committee, told reporters last week. “That’s the reality of where we’re at.”
By their own telling, each of the Republicans has information pertaining to the Jan. 6 attack that is relevant to the investigation.
McCarthy had called Trump from the Capitol amid the attack, urging the president to call off his supporters, and he later went to the House floor to say Trump bore responsibility for the rampage. But despite initially supporting an outside investigation into the riot, McCarthy reversed course after Trump opposed the idea.
Jordan, another close Trump ally, was among the most vocal proponents of Congress’s effort to overturn Trump’s defeat in certain closely contested states. He’d attended a meeting at the White House in late December of 2020, just weeks before Jan. 6, to help plan the Republicans’ strategy for blocking Congress’s vote to formalize President Biden’s victory. And he was on a conference call on Jan. 2, 2021, for the same purpose. Jordan also spoke with Trump more than once on Jan. 6.
Perry, who rose in prominence as a staunch Trump defender during the former president’s first impeachment, has caught the attention of Jan. 6 investigators for his role in pushing Trump to install Jeffrey Clark as head of the Justice Department after the election. Clark was sympathetic to Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, and Republicans saw him as an ally in the effort to use the Justice Department to keep Trump in office.
Biggs, a former head of the far-right Freedom Caucus, had been a part of a campaign led by Arizona state lawmakers to seat a slate of alternative electors who would side with Trump despite his loss in the Grand Canyon State.
A fifth GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.), had also been a target of investigators for his coordination with the Trump White House leading up to Jan. 6 as well as his combative speech on the Ellipse that morning, when Brooks, clad in body armor, urged the crowd to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”
Brooks, who lost a bid for Alabama Senate this year, is not returning to Capitol Hill next year, and the Jan. 6 committee did not include him on its list of ethics referrals.
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