Four protest organizers filed a lawsuit against Verizon on Monday, attempting to block the telecoms provider from sharing mobile phone data with the congressional select committee investigating the Capitol assault.
Justin Caporale, Tim Unes, Megan Powers, and Maggie Mulvaney claimed in their complaint that the committee lacked the necessary jurisdiction to receive the data. The committee’s subpoena to Verizon on Jan. 6 collecting call, text, and location information “lacks a lawful purpose and seeks to invade the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to privacy and to confidential political communications,” according to the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs directly cooperated with the committee’s inquiry by sitting for “lengthy” interviews and giving “thousands of documents to Congressional investigators.”
“The Plaintiffs are four private citizens who were not involved in any federal government activities or programs. They have only one apparent connection to the matter Congress claims to be investigating: They served as vendors to help staff a peaceful, lawful, orderly and patriotic assembly to promote First Amendment-protected speech,” the suit says.
On Sept. 29, the House Select Committee issued subpoenas to Unes, the CEO of Event Strategies; his associate Caporale, who was listed as the event’s “project manager” in paperwork; Powers, who was listed as a “operations manager” in paperwork; and Maggie Mulvaney, the niece of former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was described as the rally’s “VIP Lead” in official paperwork.
“The subpoenas seek a range of records that include materials dealing with the planning, funding, and participation in the events and bus tours; social media activity of associated entities; and communications with or involvement of Trump Administration officials and lawmakers,” according to the Jan. 6 Committee’s announcement in September.
Investigators are looking into any links between rally organizers and former President Donald Trump, who promoted the event on social media. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump tweeted on December 19, one of numerous calls to attend. “Be there, will be wild!” Many of those who attended the rally and participated in the Capitol storming used Trump’s remarks as justification for the actions that transpired.
“The Plaintiffs answered every single question about what happened at the event, who spoke, who the Plaintiffs spoke with, and when. If Congress wanted to know anything more about the Plaintiffs’ brief involvement with the events it is allegedly investigating, it needed only have asked,” said Monday’s lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.
The bipartisan group looking into the Jan. 6 incident has issued hundreds of subpoenas to Trump associates and former White House officials, including former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The Committee unanimously decided Monday night to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress after reading a handful of text messages from politicians, advisers, and Fox News hosts pleading with Meadows to push Trump to do more to prevent the bloodshed.
Steve Bannon appears to be using his criminal case to provide Donald Trump with access to the House Select Committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurgency.
After refusing to cooperate with a subpoena, the right-wing podcaster was charged with contempt of Congress, and legal experts believe he’s trying to force investigators to expose who they’ve interviewed and what they’ve said, as well as study private committee conversations.
“There’s no cost to opposing Congress if you can give Congress a black eye for even daring to ask you questions,” said national security attorney Kel McClanahan.
Of course, Bannon has the right to see the evidence against him, but he’s trying to make some of it public by including witness interviews and investigators’ internal communications in court filings, which the Justice Department claims could result in “specific harms” like witness tampering or tainting the jury pool.
“It’s not about trying the case in the media, it’s about making it costly for the committee to go after him,” McClanahan said. “It is graymail, pure and simple: You can’t touch me, because if you do then I’ll spill your secrets.”
News outlets such as Buzzfeed, CNN, and The Washington Post have taken Bannon’s side in the debate and pushed the judge to release the records, but other legal scholars believe the Trump ally is attempting to open the probe in order to assist other witnesses who refuse to comply.
“Normally this doesn’t come up,” said former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, who now teaches at Columbia University. “His whole thing is about blowing up the whole system. He’s almost an anarchist. It might not really be about the contents of any particular document — it might be about the process.”
Even if Bannon is convicted of criminal contempt and sentenced to prison, he will not be forced to testify before the House Select Committee examining the takeover of the Capitol.
According to former US attorney Joyce Vance, the committee could employ another tactic to eventually compel Bannon’s testimony.
On MSNBC on Saturday, Vance first addressed Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who reacted to the committee’s decision to subpoena Roger Stone and Alex Jones in a TV appearance this week. Meadows, who is facing a subpoena from the committee, said, “I can tell you that I’m not aware of anyone in the White House who had communications with either one of those individuals.”
I “expect to hear that audiotape actually played back against Meadows if the government is forced to compel or prosecute him to obtain his testimony,” Vance said in response to Meadows’ comments.
“The real story” is the number of witnesses who are testifying with the committee without being subpoenaed, as well as the papers collected by congressional investigators, Vance then added.
“We see that reflected in some of these new subpoenas which contain information that’s clearly coming from witnesses,” Vance said. “They’re being very, very definitive — for instance, with some of the members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, when they explain why they’re seeking their testimony, and also with some of the folks who are organizers of the Jan. 6 event.”
“They’re looking at organizers, they’re looking at organizations, and they clearly have a trajectory where they’re trying to obtain the information they need,” she added. “Whether they’ll be able to go back and get people like Bannon to testify is still an open question. Even if Bannon is convicted, that’s no guarantee that he will ever testify. But the committee will then have an opportunity to engage in civil contempt proceedings that could find him back in prison and holding his own keys to his jail cell based on when he chooses to testify or not.”
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