House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) on Tuesday may have broken the law when he issued a threat to telecommunications companies that comply with a request by the January 6 committee to preserve and potentially turn over call records relating to the attack, including those of members of Congress.
McCarthy called out Democrats like January 6 committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), claiming that the committee’s request was an attempt to “strong-arm” communications companies.
He also dubiously claimed that it would be illegal for the companies to comply with the government request, leaving them with a threat. “[A] Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law,” he wrote. His office has failed to produce a specific law that the companies’ compliance would violate.
Legal experts disagree with McCarthy’s claim. CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen said Wednesday that “no, there is no law” that the telecommunications companies would be breaking. In fact, Eisen said, it would be illegal if the telecommunications companies destroyed the records or refused to turn them over, as McCarthy suggested they do.
“This is absolutely unjustified by [the] law and it raises serious questions under the House ethics rules,” Eisen said. “It meets the elements of obstruction. It’s a threat. It’s an attempt to stop them, through that threat, from turning over documents. It’s self-motivated, it’s corrupt. McCarthy is worried about what may be in those records on him.”
Democrats are also alarmed about McCarthy’s threat. “I see it as clear obstruction of justice,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) told The Washington Post. Swalwell said that officials should consider referring McCarthy’s threat to the Department of Justice. “He’s telling the telecommunications companies to not honor a lawful subpoena, or there could be some penalty down the line,” Swalwell continued.
While it is known that McCarthy had a call with President Donald Trump on January 6, there is little information on the content of that call. And though nearly eight months have passed since the attack, McCarthy has remained guarded about what he discussed with Trump that day.
The records, which the committee began seeking last week, may shine a light on his fellow Republicans lawmakers too. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also had a phone call with Trump that day; other lawmakers like Representatives Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) have been accused of collaborating with members of the far right in planning the attack.
A spokesperson for the committee said that the group is not fazed by McCarthy’s threat. “The Select Committee is investigating the violent attack on the Capitol and attempt to overturn the results of last year’s election,” the spokesperson said in a statement, per Politico. “We’ve asked companies not to destroy records that may help answer questions for the American people. The committee’s efforts won’t be deterred by those who want to whitewash or cover up the events of January 6th, or obstruct our investigation.”
Republicans have spent the last several months downplaying the violent attempt — which resulted in the death of seven people — to get Congress to reinstate Trump against the will of the voters. The party’s motivations, meanwhile, have remained relatively clear: to obstruct the investigation by every means possible. Trump last week also tried to prevent communications logs related to January 6 from coming out after the committee requested documents from the White House.
Earlier this year, Republicans struck down a bill that would have created a bipartisan January 6 commission, even after Democrats had made several concessions to get them on board. Then, McCarthy attempted to sabotage the House committee, picking questionable figures like avid Trump supporter Rep. Jordan who was fully behind the attempt to overthrow the election results to investigate the attack.