GOP Minority Leader Vows Revenge Against Tech Firms That Comply With Jan. 6 Phone Record Requests

McCarthy threatened that if Republicans regain control of Congress, they'll retaliate against companies that hand over records.

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at a press conference on Aug. 31, 2021.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at a press conference on Aug. 31, 2021.
Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP (Getty Images)

Here’s one way of making yourself look totally innocent: issuing wild threats against anyone who dares cooperate with investigators.

GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has previously threatened fellow Republicans with removal from their committee seats if they participate in a Democrat-led investigation into the Donald Trump-incited assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Now, he’s issuing even more frantic threats that he will somehow personally shut down telecom and social media companies that comply with the probe. Democrats on the Jan. 6 commission have asked 35 such companies to preserve records of people it believes are tied to the riot. Representative Bennie Thompson, the inquiry’s chairman, told reporters “several hundred” people are targeted, including members of Congress, the Trump administration, and the ex-president’s family.

According to the HuffPost, McCarthy accused Democrats of attempting to “strong-arm private companies” into turning over “individuals’ private data,” putting “every American with a phone or computer in the crosshairs of a surveillance state run by Democratic politicians.”

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McCarthy then warned any companies that preserved the records would face an existential threat in the form of revenge when Republicans regain control of Congress.

“If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy said in a Twitter statement. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

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HuffPost wrote it’s “unclear what law he is referring to,” which is probably because no such law exists and McCarthy is just live-action role-playing as someone with the power to credibly threaten the companies involved.

The Democratic request is not legally binding but is a fairly clear prelude to potential subpoenas if the lawmakers on the commission don’t get what they’re looking for. According to CNN, the list of targeted individuals could include some of Trump’s most outspoken supporters in the House, many of whom have continued to parrot the kind of conspiracy theories about the 2020 elections which inspired the Capitol riots in the first place:

... Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Paul Gosar also of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jody Hice of Georgia and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

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CNN wrote that McCarthy, who reportedly called Trump in the middle of the riots, was surprisingly not on the list. The network noted the “contents of that call are expected to be of great interest to the committee,” and the committee may demand McCarthy testify or subpoena those records in the future.

One reason McCarthy may be particularly antsy is that previous reports, citing Republican lawmakers briefed on what happened, detailed the call as a shouting match as the minority leader begged Trump to call off the rioters. Trump reportedly told McCarthy, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” to which McCarthy responded, “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?”

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It’s not clear whether that call happened before or after McCarthy, as the New York Times reported, ditched Republican colleague Representative Bruce Westerman in his office while he evacuated with his security detail. Westerman said he subsequently took a Civil War-era sword from a display and barricaded himself in McCarthy’s bathroom.

Conspiracy theorist and fellow Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene issued a similar threat on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, vowing that “If these telecommunications companies, if they go along with this, they will be shut down. And that’s a promise.” Like McCarthy, she was conveniently vague on any actual mechanism of action that would allow Republicans to do that beyond a commitment to reprisal. 

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The preservation requests reportedly went out to the likes of cell phone companies like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless, as well as tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Signal, Slack, Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube. According to ABC, also on the list were Gab and Parler, two social networks respectively catering to the extreme right. Leaked GPS data obtained by Gizmodo showed that Parler users penetrated deeply into the Capitol during the riot, while Gab was another hub of activity for rioters.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that the multibillion-dollar companies on the preservation request list will be swayed by McCarthy’s threat to wave a magic wand and wipe them out of existence, but be generous. The man has little rioters to feed. For his part, Trump has said he will invoke executive privilege to prevent Democrats from obtaining records related to his administration’s role in the riot, though the decision is ultimately in the hands of his successor President Joe Biden.