Saturday, January 29, 2022

January 6 Committee weighs options for members of Congress to follow up on their investigation

The issue is to decide on a path that will provide them with the best opportunity to obtain information and interviews by using the powers of the committee at their disposal.

The committee is grappling with whether they have the constitutional right to summon their fellow members, and even if they do, whether they have an enforcement mechanism in place that will eventually lead to cooperation.

“Well, we’re looking into it,” said Representative Benny Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who serves as the committee’s chairman. “And we’ll have an answer based on a meeting we have later this week.”

Thompson said the committee is awaiting guidance from his attorney to determine his course of action.

So far the committee has attempted to gather that information by sending letters for voluntary cooperation to Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Both Perry and Jordan responded with a statement and a letter to the committee making it clear that their cooperation would not come without a fight.

Perry issued a statement where he called the committee illegitimate and said he would not provide them with the information they were looking for.

“I decline this unit’s request and will continue to fight the failures of the radical left,” Perry wrote.

Jordan wrote a lengthy letter to the committee, where he never specifically stated that he would not cooperate, but said he had nothing “relevant” to offer to investigate the committee.

Despite the GOP pair’s obstinate attitude, the committee has been reluctant to take steps to coerce their cooperation. The issuance of summons by a Congress Committee to existing members of Congress would be unprecedented and could lead to several legal challenges.

“This is uncharted waters,” Thomas Spoolak, who served as general counsel for the House of Representatives in the 1990s, told CNN.

The solution to those legal challenges is a discussion that has not yet been fully resolved by the Committee.

“It’s a question we’ll talk about if we get to that step,” said Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, a member of the committee.

His fellow member, Democratic Representative Jamie Ruskin of Maryland, said: “We haven’t had a conversation about that.” But Ruskin further said that he believes that if the committee decides, nothing can stop the committee from taking this step. “Absolutely, my position is that we clearly have a right to do so.”

Ruskin, who was a professor of constitutional law at the American University of Washington College of Law for more than 25 years, gave legal reasons why he believed it was within the committee’s jurisdiction to summon members of Congress.

Ruskin explained, “Article one of the Constitution gives each House the power to define its own rules of proceedings. Each House has the power to impose disciplinary sanction on all its members, from condemnation to expulsion.” “And Congress, according to the Supreme Court, has the power to summon anyone to pursue a legitimate investigative purpose, which it clearly is.”

One potential hurdle that the committee must consider is a legislator citing the Speech and Debate clause, which states that a sitting member of Congress is protected from certain inquiries and processes originating outside Congress. But panel members and legal scholars alike do not see this as an issue.

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“The Speech and Debate clause states that members of Congress will not be questioned about their legislative activities outside Congress, but it provides a clear implication that it is okay to do so within Congress,” Ruskin said.

Legal scholar and Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe told CNN, “The speech and debate clauses and the arrest clauses protect members from some of the interrogations and processes that take place outside of Congress, but only political considerations restrict the use of the summons power by Congress.” To compel the existing members to testify or produce documents as required by a committee like a Special House Committee.”

“The Supreme Court has looked into this over the years and found that constitutional privilege does not apply only to things that are within the legislative sphere,” Spoolak said.

But the power to issue summons is only part of the problem for the committee.

“There is nothing that would stop them from doing so,” Spoolak confirmed, adding that the panel has the legal capacity to issue subpoenas to a current member of Congress. “The question is, what if the member does not comply?”

While the committee has conducted interviews with some 400 people, they have run into obstacles in gaining cooperation with key members of the Trump inner circle, many of whom have been summoned. The committee has already referred two Trump aides, Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, to criminal contempt of Congress.

They may not have that option when it comes to members of Congress.

“Will the committee have the political will to vote a member in contempt? Will the leadership bring a contempt motion to the floor and have an entire House vote on it to send to the Justice Department? There are too many questions.” In the end, you know, that’s how it plays out,” Spoolak told CNN.

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Spoolak said the panel could go to the House Ethics Committee if a member does not cooperate with a subpoena, but it is also an unprecedented move to enforce it in a way that may lack the necessary effects to compel compliance. .

Spoolak explained, “We are not aware of instances where the ethics committee has had to call on a member to come and appear in an investigation. This is usually done voluntarily.”

Meanwhile, as the committee deliberates, Republicans are using the committee’s work as a fundraising and political organizing tool. As an example, Jordan is talking about his efforts to fight the committee’s “detailed subpoenas” during private calls with donors and conservative grassroots organizers last month.

The political consequences of a provocative move such as serving a subpoena to a sitting member of Congress are not lost on the members of the January 6 committee.

“It’s not something that should be done lightly for anyone else,” Ruskin said.

If the committee opposes issuing a subpoena for fellow members, another option may be to call them to a public hearing and effectively compel Republican members to decide whether they will show up. No.

But that also carries potential political risks. While the committee is unique in that it is made up of nine lawmakers who are unified around a common mission, giving members such as Jordan the opportunity to appear as witnesses gives them the opportunity to carefully organize the panel’s expectation. Might get a chance. The purpose of the prime time hearing was to help tell the full story of what happened on January 6.

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