On the day that the House canceled its session due to the threat of a “possible” attack by a pro-Trump militia, CNN reported that federal investigators are examining communications between lawmakers and the insurrectionists who took over the Capitol on January 6. The inquiry aims to determine if lawmakers wittingly or unwittingly helped the rioters prepare and execute the attack, according to one U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The data gathered so far includes contact between lawmakers and insurrectionists in the period surrounding the attack, as well as comms between alleged rioters discussing their purported connections to those inside the building they attacked. While CNN does not state which side of the aisle the lawmakers involved in the inquiry belong to, it’s likely that they were affiliated with the party that spoke in front of and encouraged rioters just before they raided the Capitol complex. The report also does not mention publicly known contacts between House representatives like Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, and Andy Biggs and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, who says the trio coordinated with him to plan the event that would “change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside.”
Other previously reported connections between Republicans and alleged rioters include Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and conservative influencer Anthony Aguero, who has admitted to breaking into the Capitol. Representative Mary Miller, who approvingly quoted Hitler the day before the attack, is married to the owner of a pick-up truck with a militia sticker that was parked on January 6 at the Capitol grounds closed to vehicular traffic. Democrats have also previously called for an inquiry into Representative Lauren Boebert, who tweeted out Nancy Pelosi’s location during the attack.
A U.S. official familiar with the investigation who spoke with CNN said that the existence of any contact between lawmakers and alleged rioters does not mean that any wrongdoing took place, and that no members of Congress are currently targets of the inquiry. The focus on lawmakers comes as the massive investigation into the attack shifts from rounding up suspects who broadcast their alleged crimes on social media to finding more difficult targets and determining how the insurrection was coordinated. If investigators find probable cause that lawmakers or their aides helped insurrectionists in the attack, they would then seek a search warrant to obtain their communications.
One potential roadblock is the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which provides legal immunity to members of Congress when carrying out their legislative duties. As a workaround, Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate as well; the committee can access information that the FBI could have trouble obtaining because of the Speech or Debate immunity. Ultimately though, members of Congress are not shielded by their office from federal legal accountability, as the president is.