A group of Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint Thursday against Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz over their objections to the Jan. 6 certification of the presidential election results that coincided with the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.
By objecting to the certification, Cruz, and Hawley, "lent legitimacy" to the violent mob of pro-Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol, the letter sent to incoming Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Chris Coons, D-Del., and Vice Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla., said.
The letter, spearheaded by Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, asked for an investigation into the two members to "fully understand their role" as it relates to the attack on the Capitol and to determine if disciplinary action is needed.
Whitehouse and the six other Democrats who signed the letter want information on whether Hawley, Cruz or their staffers were in contact or coordinated with the organizers of the rally; what the senators knew about the plans for the Jan. 6 rally; whether they received donations from any of the organizations or donors that funded the rally, and whether the senators "engaged in criminal conduct or unethical or improper behavior."
Until those questions are cleared up, "a cloud of uncertainty will hang over them and over this body," the letter said. Sens. Ron Wyden, Tina Smith, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown also signed.
Hawley, of Missouri, and Cruz, of Texas, have defended their actions by saying they were raising objections to what they saw as election irregularities in states that voted for Biden. There has been no proof for such claims.
Hawley said Thursday that Biden and the Democrats are "trying to silence dissent."
He added that the request for an investigation "is a flagrant abuse of the Senate ethics process and a flagrant attempt to exact partisan revenge."
Both Hawley and Cruz, along with six other senators, have faced bipartisan criticism for voting against certification in Arizona and Pennsylvania. They maintained their position even after several of their fellow senators withdrew objections after Congress was forced to evacuate due to the mob attacking the Capitol building.
If an investigation goes forward and the committee finds any wrongdoing by the two senators, they could face discipline from the Senate. Under the Constitution, Congress has the exclusive power to discipline its members --though it is rare for members to face punishment.
The Senate can expel or censure its members. Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote in the chamber. Censure requires a majority vote.
But according to Senate.gov, only 15 U.S. senator have been expelled since 1780 — all for disloyalty to the U.S. Most of them were removed for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The Senate has censured nine of its members between 1811 and 1990 for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute." The majority of the most recent cases have involved senators who were found to improperly accept gifts or used campaign funds for their personal benefit.
The seven Democrats who drafted the letter to the Ethics Committee believe Hawley and Cruz violated the Code of Ethics for Government Service, which requires elected officials to "[p]ut loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department" and "[u]phold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust."
Sen. Smith, D-Minn., said Thursday that she believes Hawley and Cruz should be removed from the Senate.
"Sens. Cruz and Hawley deserve a fair process and a chance to explain themselves and their role in the January 6 Capitol siege," Smith wrote in a tweet. "But unless we learn something new, based on what we've seen so far, I don't believe they deserve to remain in the Senate."
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