It was late yesterday when the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack requested information from Rep. Scott Perry. It took the Pennsylvania Republican about half a day to say no. CNBC reported this morning:
Rep. Scott Perry, the first lawmaker to be asked to answer questions from the investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, on Tuesday said he would refuse to cooperate with the probe. The Pennsylvania Republican in a pair of tweets called the congressional select committee "illegitimate" and "not duly constituted" under the rules of the House. "I decline this entity's request," Perry tweeted.
In a pair of tweets, the GOP congressman, who's also a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, went on to add some gratuitous rhetoric about inflation, Afghanistan, and the U.S./Mexico border.
Distractions aside, there are three key elements to this that are worth keeping in mind.
First, Perry may want to pretend that the bipartisan Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is "illegitimate" and "not duly constituted," but reality tells a very different story. There is a process through which House members create select committees, and it involves the full chamber approving a resolution to create a panel and give it the legal authority to issue subpoenas.
The House held such a vote in June, approved the creation of the committee, and members from both parties were seated in accordance with the resolution. In the months that followed, several federal judges — from district and circuit courts — have recognized the legitimacy of the investigatory committee and its work.
It may make Perry feel better to effectively argue that this isn't a real committee, so he's justified in ignoring the "entity," but his tweets don't make it so.
Second, by refusing to cooperate voluntarily, the far-right congressman is inviting a highly unusual intra-chamber dispute. While the Jan. 6 committee politely requested information yesterday, it did not formally approve a subpoena. The hope, evidently, was that Perry would simply choose transparency.
Now that he's done the opposite, we're left with the possibility of the committee issuing a subpoena that would, at least in theory, require him to provide information.
We don't yet know how or whether the committee's members will respond to Perry's declaration this morning, but some striking questions hang overhead. Would the Republican congressman defy a subpoena? Would the chamber consider holding him in contempt? Would the Justice Department consider prosecution?
There's no modern precedent for anything like these circumstances. [Update: See below.]
And third, the questions the committee has for Perry — and perhaps other GOP members in the near future — are highly relevant to the larger investigation. As we discussed this morning, the committee claims it has evidence of the Pennsylvania Republican playing a role in post-election, pro-Trump schemes.
The GOP lawmaker has some options, but effectively saying that he doesn't recognize the legitimacy of those asking the questions shouldn't be among his choices.
As recently as October, a Senate Judiciary Committee report put Perry at the center of the efforts to overturn the election results. Politico reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee urged "other congressional investigators to further probe [Perry's] involvement in the runup to the Jan. 6 insurrection."
The Jan. 6 panel is trying to do exactly that, though it appears Perry has something to hide.
Update: A spokesperson for the select committee issued a statement this afternoon that read, "Representative Perry has information directly relevant to our investigation. While he says that he respects the Constitution and Rule of Law, he fails to note that multiple federal courts, acting pursuant to Article 3 of our Constitution, have already rejected the former President’s claims that the committee lacks an appropriate legislative purpose. The Select Committee prefers to gather relevant evidence from members cooperatively, but if members with directly relevant information decline to cooperate and instead endeavor to cover up, the Select Committee will consider seeking such information using other tools."