The biggest takeaway from today’s Jan. 6 committee meeting was the panel’s decision to refer Donald Trump and members of his team to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. But as my MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown noted, there were also ethics referrals to consider.
Alongside the criminal referrals to the DOJ, the Jan. 6 committee members also voted to send four of their colleagues to the House Ethics Committee for sanction. Each of the four — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ohio’s Jim Jordan, Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry and Arizona’s Andy Biggs — received subpoenas from the committee to testify but opted to shrug them off.
This came up during today’s proceedings, when Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin explained that the bipartisan panel “took the significant step” of issuing subpoenas to McCarthy, Jordan, Perry, and Biggs, “based on the volume of information particular members possessed about one or more parts of President Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election.”
The Maryland congressman added, “None of the subpoenaed members complied, and we are now referring four members of Congress for appropriate sanction by the House Ethics Committee for failure to comply with lawful subpoenas.”
The executive summary of the Jan. 6 committee’s report also added, “The Rules of the House of Representatives make clear that their willful noncompliance violates multiple standards of conduct and subjects them to discipline. ... A House Member’s willful failure to comply with a congressional subpoena also reflects discredit on Congress. If left unpunished, such behavior undermines Congress’s longstanding power to investigate in support of its lawmaking authority and suggests that Members of Congress may disregard legal obligations that apply to ordinary citizens.”
With just two weeks remaining before the start of the new Congress, it’s obviously too late for any kind of meaningful ethics investigation to begin. But what about next year?
It’s possible the subpoena-defying quartet could face scrutiny for having ignored legal summons from their own institution, but the odds aren’t great. As Roll Call reported, an ethics probe “appears unlikely because of how the Ethics Committee operates, where a Republican would need to agree to open an investigation. The Ethics Committee is split, with five Republican members and five Democratic ones, and the broader political environment in the House may make an investigation difficult.”
What’s far clearer is that McCarthy, Jordan, Perry, and Biggs had important perspectives to share — and they had a responsibility to cooperate with the investigation, which they ultimately ignored.
In case anyone needs a refresher, Perry’s anti-election work with the Trump White House made him an obvious person of interest — and his significance in the larger scandal has only grown since. Jordan, meanwhile, repeatedly insisted that he had “nothing to hide,” but despite his obvious relevance to the probe, the Ohioan refused to cooperate.
McCarthy also has unique insights into what happened in and around Jan. 6, but he also refused to cooperate with his own chamber’s investigation. As for Biggs, investigators concluded that he had extensive interactions with the Trump White House during the relevant period, and knew about pardons that were allegedly requested by members of Congress. The far-right Arizonan also ignored investigators’ questions.
Time will tell what, if anything, the House Intelligence Committee does with today’s referrals, but the relevance to the public seems unmistakable.
Postscript: It's less relevant today, but some of the four Republicans who blew off Jan. 6 subpoenas will be pushing subpoenas of their own next year as committee chairs and party leaders. Do you suppose their attitudes will suddenly change in the new Congress about witnesses who refuse to honor subpoenas?