McCarthy’s rejection of the Jan. 6 committee leads to a subpoena

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The refusal of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to cooperate with the congressional committee investigating last year’s Capitol Assault marks his outright rejection of the Jan. 6 inquiry. to him and to the committee in unknown legal and political waters.

His disapproval of the panel brings his members closer to the difficult decision to summon his comrades in the House, a move that could advance his investigation, but also opens them to accusations of extreme partisanship before the half-term and sets a precedent. for the future. Domestic probes.

The committee is asking McCarthy for information about his communications with former President Trump before, during and after the Capitol attack. In a letter, committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) Noted McCarthy’s phone call to Trump during the attack, in which the congressman asked Trump to help disperse the mob, as well as the McCarthy’s meeting three weeks later with Trump in Mar-a-Lago.

“The select committee has tremendous respect for the prerogatives of Congress and the privacy of its members,” Thompson wrote in the Jan. 12 letter. “At the same time, we have a solemn responsibility to fully investigate the facts and circumstances of those facts.”

Members of the select committee to investigate Jan. 6 have said they are open to using citations to force reluctant members of Congress to declare whether they have authority. But quoting seated members of Congress could have drawbacks in future sessions of Congress.

Republicans have already suggested launching a series of investigations into the withdrawal of the Biden administration from Afghanistan, the son of President Hunter Biden and the security flaws that led to the January 6 attack, with a focus on scrutinizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While these probes may occur regardless of the committee’s decision, their members have yet to weigh the importance of the testimony they seek with the precedent it could set on how probes are conducted in a GOP-controlled House.

“This is one of those where, if you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind,” said Jim Brulte, a former California Senate GOP leader who served while McCarthy led the lower house Republicans.

“Using the power of federal authority to force your political rivals to participate in your political theater is horribly counterproductive,” he said. “And I guess those who support it will regret it when people like it [Ohio] Congressman Jim Jordan takes the hammer and then decides to use that same authority on them. “

For McCarthy, there are few political incentives to appear before the committee. While refusing to testify may give the impression that he has something to hide, he has criticized the committee from the outset as partisan and too limited.

“Any American voter, regardless of their perspective or political persuasion, who is paying attention to this is already fully expecting Kevin McCarthy not to appear before this committee, even if he is quoted,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist based on this committee. California. “In some ways, I think this is all about the political theater movements that everyone expects them to perform.”

McCarthy initially supported the formation of a bipartisan independent commission, but later withdrew his support. He also opposed the House Select Committee and withdrew all of his Republican candidates after Pelosi rejected two of his elections that were close allies of Trump, Jordan and Indiana MP Jim Banks.

During a press conference last week, McCarthy insisted that he has already publicly shared everything he has to say. “There’s nothing I can provide to the Jan. 6 committee for legislation,” he said. “There is nothing in this area, it is pure politics.” McCarthy’s office did not return a request for comment.

Issuing a subpoena is the committee’s most aggressive tactic for pressuring reluctant witnesses to testify. “It’s the nuclear option,” said Kimberly Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore Law School.

Failure to comply with a Congressional subpoena could result in a prison sentence, although this is unlikely to result in McCarthy’s case. First, the committee should issue a subpoena. If McCarthy did not comply, the committee and then the full House would vote in favor of considering McCarthy as a contempt in Congress. The criminal contempt report would then be referred to the Department of Justice, which in turn would decide whether to prosecute the case.

McCarthy could challenge the citation. He has already argued that the committee has no “legitimate legislative purpose”, although the committee has made it clear that it has a fact-finding mission and intends to recommend legislative changes to prevent a future attack.

He could also argue that his talks with the former president are protected by the speech and debate clause of the Constitution, which protects members of Congress from external demands for legislative discourse. But then he would have to prove that his talks had a legislative purpose.

Assuming the committee pursues McCarthy’s testimony as aggressively as possible, his biggest handicap would be time. The House voted in favor of former Trump aide Stephen Bannon out of contempt of Congress on Oct. 21, and the Justice Department charged him on Nov. 12. His trial will not begin until July 2022.

With a similar timetable, any legal case against McCarthy would extend beyond the midterm elections and into the next session of Congress, when Republicans have a high chance of gaining control of the House. “His number one defense will be a delay,” Wehle said.

Democrats argue that refusing to meet with the committee means McCarthy has something to hide, either to protect Trump or himself, given his change of tone in the days following the Jan. 6 attack. . Although he initially said Trump had “some responsibility” for the day’s events, McCarthy later softened his tone and said Trump did not provoke the siege of the Capitol.

“Kevin McCarthy has decided that his number one goal is to keep Trump and the most extreme elements of his party happy,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former Democratic Congress Campaign Committee official. “He has no interest in winning the country.”

To win the country, and control of Congress, in the fall midterm elections, both parties will try to convince voters that they are primarily concerned about kitchen table issues such as inflation and the economy. As the Democratic agenda has been stalled by Senate Republicans, McCarthy and other leaders have tried to paint Democrats as singularly focused on the Jan. 6 committee. If Republicans control the House next year and undertake partisan investigations into retaliation, Democrats argue it would be counterproductive for voters seeking a political-focused agenda.

Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said it would be reminiscent of the House select committee investigating the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and the role of ‘Hillary Clinton. Most Americans said at the time that they thought the investigation was politically motivated. But the probe weakened Clinton, serving as the genesis of the most damaging investigation into her use of a private email server.

“It would be more of a communication vehicle and a political vehicle than a real attempt to get to the truth,” he said.

Recent polls suggest the committee’s work is popular with voters, although the number dropped significantly among independents and Republicans when they felt it was more partisan. Sixty-one percent of voters polled in a Politico / Morning Consult poll released earlier this month said they support the January 6 committee’s work, including 82 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 40% of Republicans.

But when respondents were told that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated all members of the committee, those numbers dropped to 76 percent for Democrats, 43 percent for independents and 16 percent for Republicans.

The January 6 committee also runs the risk of becoming even more politicized. Stutzman said Pelosi may have “exaggerated his partisan hand” by eliminating McCarthy’s election to the committee. Reporting criminal charges against McCarthy to the Justice Department could be a step too far for some voters, especially independents.

“You’re getting into the idea of ​​prosecuting recriminations against political enemies,” Stutzman said.

But the way forward is easier for the commission:

It is unclear what the committee will do next, but expectations are clear: those who support its work expect the panel to move forward, regardless of any possible reaction from voters or the threat of investigative revenge from a future House. governed by the GOP.

“The committee has to look for all the clues and all the evidence,” Finney said. “His job is to try to do as much accounting as possible.”

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