McCarthy threatens telecoms: Republicans will remember if you turn over records to the January 6 committee

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I can’t decide if his statement last night was a weaselly attempt to impress MAGA fans without doing anything meaningful or if it really was a naked attempt to use state power to punish private actors for making trouble for his party.

A few days ago the January 6 committee asked various telecom companies to preserve the communications records of certain individuals related to their investigation, some of whom are likely to be Republican lawmakers who were in contact with Trump during the insurrection. The companies haven’t been asked to turn any over yet, but that’s coming. Those record requests serve “no conceivable legislative purpose,” said an indignant Rep. Jim Banks after the preservation letters were sent, but of course that’s false. What Trump knew and didn’t know about the situation in the Capitol that day from his phone calls with trapped legislators is obviously relevant in judging his inaction. And the timeline of calls may help build out a fuller timeline of events.

McCarthy’s very upset about the committee potentially having those records. I wonder why.

Long ago, back in 2006, I remember how angry Republicans got when Harry Reid and other Senate Dems ran interference for the Clintons by publicly objecting to the ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11,” which highlighted some of Bill Clinton’s failures in stopping Al Qaeda in the 1990s. Reid went so far as to send a letter to ABC hinting that they might lose their broadcast license if they aired a program that was supposedly guilty of falsehoods about such a politically sensitive matter. Reid abused his public authority by threatening to retaliate against a private company for doing something it had the right to do simply because it was inconvenient for his party. Righties were furious, understandably.

What’s the difference between that and what McCarthy’s doing now? It’s even worse in McCarthy’s case, actually, because he’s trying to obstruct a federal investigation. One in which he himself might be a key witness, by the way.

The reason I can’t decide if he’s faking or going full thug is because his statement emphasizes that turning over any communication records would be “in violation of federal law.” If that’s true then obviously the companies shouldn’t turn over those records. But if it’s true, why would McCarthy go on to threaten political retaliation? He shouldn’t need to vow extra-legal consequences to prevent an action that the law itself already prohibits.

And which federal law is he talking about, exactly? Is it one that exists in his head? “McCarthy’s office would not provide CNN with a specific federal statute that a company would be in violation of if it complied with a duly empaneled congressional committee,” CNN reported last night.

That’s what I mean when I say I can’t tell if his statement is designed to make Trumpers believe that he’s threatening the companies even though he really isn’t. He’s showing them that “he fights!” — in a blatantly corrupt way, in this case — but if the companies turn over the records to the committee anyway, he’s leaving himself an out to say, “Well, I said we’d punish them if they broke the law. It turns out they didn’t.”

I’ve got a federal law for him, one which he might not like. Several lawyers who read his statement last night pointed to 18 U.S.C. 1505, “Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees.” Quote:

Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress—

Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

That may explain why McCarthy claimed in his statement that turning over the records would violate federal law. If that’s true then he’s not obstructing the “due and proper exercise” of Congress’s investigative power. Even if it’s not true, he might pretend that he sincerely believed it was true when he issued his statement and therefore didn’t intend to obstruct a “due and proper exercise” of power.

Either way, as Julian Sanchez says, telecoms have well-paid lawyers who know which records are subject to subpoena and which aren’t. There’s no need for McCarthy to nudge them about following the law apart from him seeking a pretext to warn them of political retaliation even if they comply lawfully. At a minimum, that sort of threat should land him in front of the House Ethics Committee. And this idiot too:

“What can be more discreditable than the leader of the House minority openly shaking down companies to break the law and hide evidence from a legitimate investigation that may implicate him and his colleagues?” said ethics expert Norm Eisen about McCarthy’s threat. He might be immune from prosecution under Section 1505 due to the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause — surely the Founders wanted lawmakers to be able to exploit their office to make gangster-style threats of reprisal to their constituents with impunity — but the Ethics Committee can do what it likes.

I’ll say this for him, though: He’s true to the spirit of Trumpism, which is to seek advantage over one’s enemies at all times and let others worry about the legal or ethical niceties. I’ll leave you with the committee’s reply.