Federal authorities are investigating records of communications between members of Congress and pro-Trump rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, an unnamed U.S. official told CNN. The investigation appears to involve whether or not lawmakers wittingly or unwittingly helped the mob.
“The data gathered so far includes indications of contact with lawmakers in the days around January 6, as well as communications between alleged rioters discussing their associations with members of Congress, the official said,” CNN reported.
Such communications do not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing, and investigators have not begun to target members of Congress in the investigation, the source added. “Should investigators find probable cause that lawmakers or their staffs possibly aided the insurrectionists, they could seek warrants to obtain the content of the communications. There’s no indication they’ve taken such a step at this point.”
Federal officials have arrested and charged about 300 people, and the investigation is shifting to focus on the people who allegedly conspired and planned the riot. The Justice Department has assigned more than two dozen prosecutors to examine complex issues like the funding behind the riot and whether lawmakers assisted in the attack, the official told CNN.
The Justice Department and the FBI did not comment on the official’s remarks.
Investigators are using cell phone metadata to track rioters and sifting through Capitol Police security footage. Democrats have accused unnamed Republicans of providing rioters access to the Capitol, suggesting that members of the GOP were in league with the lawbreakers and helped them stake out the building before the assault.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told CNN he has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether or not Republicans in Congress have tried to use the protections of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause to block the FBI’s investigation. The clause provides immunity to members of Congress when carrying out their legislative duties.
Whitehouse told CNN that “potential culpability by members of Congress” has to be investigated. He said he aims to make “sure this isn’t an investigation that is limited to the individuals who assaulted and entered the Capitol on January 6.”
Democrats have attempted to weaponize the Capitol riot against Republicans in various ways. The House of Representatives impeached Trump for “incitement of insurrection” on his way out the door, and Democrats in the Senate voted to try him for impeachment even after he had left office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for a 9/11 Commission-style report on the Capitol riot. Former CIA Director John Brennan compared conservatives and libertarians to Iraqi insurgents, and Biden’s Department of Homeland Security issued a domestic terror alert warning of “objections” to “governmental authority.”
Democrat former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has vocally warned against leftists “who are trying to undermine our constitutionally-protected rights and turn our country into a police state with KGB-style surveillance.”
Some observers have suggested that Democrats impeached Trump for “incitement of insurrection” in order to lay the groundwork for expelling every Republican who voted to contest the results of the 2020 election. If the riot is considered an insurrection, the theory goes, Republicans who allegedly abetted the riot by questioning the election results could be accused of having “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution and therefore ineligible to serve in Congress under the 14th Amendment.
The far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center has urged Congress to “discipline, censure, or expel” the 147 senators and representatives who “supported the insurrection.”
These accusations are extremely overblown. The 2020 election was indeed plagued with irregularities — although it seems unlikely the irregularities accounted for Biden’s victory — and the Republicans who contested the election also condemned the Capitol rioters, calling for them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In fact, according to a recent poll, 64 percent of Americans agree that politicians are using the Capitol riot to “suppress legitimate political movements.” Nearly as many (59 percent) say the riots are “being used as an excuse to silence political voices on the right.”
Democrats are overplaying their hands in 2021 and Americans are paying attention. While it would be heinous for any member of Congress to support or abet the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, it seems highly unlikely any lawmaker actually did so.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.