No one seems to be able to figure out what federal law House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was warning telecommunications companies not to break last week, or what punishment he threatened to carry out if they do, should Republicans regain a majority in the House after next year’s elections.

Last Monday the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection requested telecommunications and social media companies preserve the personal communications of hundreds of people who may have been connected to the attack. Those names weren’t made public, and no information has been requested from these companies yet. They were just asked to hang onto the information.

But McCarthy tweeted last Tuesday in his “Statement on Democrats asking companies to violate federal law” that what “Democrats” are trying to do “would put every American with a phone or computer in the crosshairs of a surveillance state run by Democrat politicians,” and that if companies turn over private information they “are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States.”

Huh?

The statement also read: “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.”

Several major news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Associated Press have tried to get clarification on what McCarthy was referring to, but without success.

The request to preserve information, which includes subscriber information, emails, voice messages, texts, videos, photos, and other stuff from April 2020 through January 2021, went out to 35 companies.

According to The Associated Press, if the committee does eventually ask for records, the decision on whether to comply, even partially, could be difficult for companies that want to cooperate but are also wary of turning over private communications of lawmakers to their political rivals. And because the request would be from Congress, and not law enforcement, the issue becomes more complicated, which pretty well guarantees any requests will wind up working their way through the courts.

And no matter how much McCarthy, or those who lick his boots, want to believe otherwise, it’s not just Democrats asking for this information to be preserved. Also last week Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was made vice chairwoman of the 13-member committee, which includes Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Cheney and Kinzinger were the only House Republicans who voted for the Congressional panel.

There was an attempt to create an independent inquiry evenly split between Democrats and Republicans to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but you’ll probably remember Senate Republicans blocked that from happening. Not all of them, however. Sixty votes were needed to advance the bill to create such an inquiry, but it failed 54 to 35. Six Republican Senators, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted for it. Nine Republican senators and two Democrats didn’t vote. The rest of the Republican Senators, including ours, voted against an independent inquiry to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol, where five people died, and 140 police officers were injured.

McCarthy was able to appoint five Republicans to the Congressional committee, but once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them, McCarthy withdrew the other three in a hissy fit. The rejects were Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, two guys who just might be on that list of people with phone records the committee may want to see. McCarthy’s another one.

The House Minority Leader’s appetite for threats and punishment isn’t only reserved for companies that may cooperate with Congress, but for members of his own party. He already kicked Cheney out of her GOP conference chairmanship for being critical of Donald Trump, and he’s said that the possibility of stripping Cheney and Kinzinger of their regular committee assignments, now that they agreed to be on this committee, will be looked at, too.

Why is Kevin McCarthy hurling threats at those who could answer questions about the people responsible for the attack on the Capitol? It seems he doesn’t want to go there, and he doesn’t want anyone else going there, either.

Steve Gillespie is editor of the Times Dispatch. Email him

at editor@thetd.com.

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