Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Cruz, Hawley after election challenge

A group of seven Democrat senators filed an ethics complaint against Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley Thursday. They sent a letter to the incoming Senate Ethics panel Chair Chris Coons and Vice-Chair James Lankford Thursday requesting an investigation into several issues. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took the lead in the letter.

Besides Whitehouse, Senators Tim Kaine, Ron Wyden, Tina Smith, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, and Sherrod Brown signed the letter. The letter is ten pages long. Politico reports that the senators request that the ethics panel investigate whether or not Cruz and Hawley incited violence on Jan. 6 at the Capitol. They want to know if Cruz and Hawley “coordinated with organizers of the pro-Trump rally immediately before the riot; whether they received donations from any organizations or donors that also funded the rally; and whether the senators “engaged in criminal conduct or unethical or improper behavior.”

Both senators deny any responsibility for the riot that killed five people and many others injured. Both have condemned the violence. Hawley and Cruz released statements through their offices.

Hawley, in a statement, described the complaint as “a flagrant abuse of the Senate ethics process and a flagrant attempt to exact partisan revenge” and said Democrats appeared “intent on weaponizing every tool at their disposal.”

A spokesperson for Cruz said in a statement that “it is unfortunate that some congressional Democrats are disregarding President Biden’s call for unity and are instead playing political games by filing frivolous ethics complaints against their colleagues.”

Hawley makes a point of telling his Missouri constituents that he refuses to back down to the angry mob while Cruz says he was objecting to Arizona electors’ votes because he wants a commission established to look into voting irregularities and claims of voter fraud. Many voters are angry that both senators continued to raise their objections after the riot, though six others who called for rejecting the electors’ votes decided to drop their objections – Senators Lankford, Braun, Johnson, Daines, Blackburn, and Hagerty.

Senator Coons is one of the Democrat senators who has already called upon Cruz and Hawley to resign. Coons is a loyal Biden supporter and served as a Biden campaign surrogate. Will he be able to set his feelings aside and lead the ethics panel in an honest investigation? Lankford, the committee’s co-chair also has a dog in the hunt as he is one senator who first backed Cruz’s objection and then withdrew his support after the riot. It looks like both men are compromised.

The letter also says that the Senate Ethics Committee “should also offer recommendations for strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure, if warranted by the facts uncovered.” Maybe a vote to censure both senators will eventually be taken, if the ethics committee finds it warranted, but there is no way that most Republican senators will vote to expel them. Many GOP senators are already signaling that they will not vote for Trump’s second impeachment over the riot so I doubt that those senators will do more than give lip service to formally reprimanding Cruz and Hawley. The club will stick together, especially in an evenly split 50/50 Senate. The letter may have been more compelling if it was a bipartisan effort, with Republican signatures.

“The question the Senate must answer is not whether Sens. Hawley and Cruz had the right to the object to the electors, but whether the senators failed to ‘[p]ut loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department’ or engaged in ‘improper conduct reflecting on the Senate’ in connection with the violence on January 6,” the letter said.

The letter said “the pair touted their plan to challenge the electors to drum up campaign contributions,” even though it is “probable” that both knew the underlying election fraud claims were false. “These solicitations continued during and after the insurrection,” the complaint said.

The Democrats involved in the request for the ethics investigation will use the letter as proof to their own constituents that they continue to fight the bad Orange Man and his supporters, though Trump is gone. After the bitterly divided last four years, it is easy to be cynical. I have no doubt that fundraising letters from the seven Democrats were sent out after the letter was delivered. The senators also named three members of the House in their complaint.

“The extent, if any, of communication or coordination between Sens. Hawley and Cruz and the organizers of the rally remains to be investigated. Three members of the House of Representatives who coordinated with Sens. Hawley and Cruz to object to the electors, Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Mo Brooks, have been identified as alleged co-architects of the rally. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether and to what extent Senators Cruz and Hawley were also aware of these groups’ activities or coordinated with their efforts,” the letter said.

Now we wait to see if either the House or the Senate moves to reprimand those lawmakers who participated in the events of January 6. This argument isn’t going away.