Seven Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint on Thursday against Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas and called for the Ethics Committee to investigate how their objections to the Electoral College votes on January 6 may have contributed to inciting the violent Capitol insurrection.
“The Senate Ethics Committee should open an investigation into the actions of Senators Hawley and Cruz, and perhaps others as investigation may reveal, in order to protect the integrity, safety, and reputation of the Senate,” Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote in the complaint.
“The question the Senate must answer is not whether Senators Hawley and Cruz had the right to the object to the electors, but whether the senators failed to ‘[p]ut loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department’ or engaged in ‘improper conduct reflecting on the Senate’ in connection with the violence on January 6,” the Democrats wrote, citing the Code of Ethics for Government Service and the Senate Ethics Manual.
In their letter to the panel’s leaders, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the seven senators also asked the committee to offer disciplinary recommendations, “including up to expulsion or censure.”
In a statement Thursday, Hawley called the complaint “a flagrant abuse of the Senate ethics process and a flagrant attempt to exact partisan revenge.”
“Democrats appear intent on weaponizing every tool at their disposal — including pushing an unconstitutional impeachment process — to further divide the country,” the Missouri Republican said, referring to the House’s impeachment of then-President Donald Trump earlier this month, which will next go to the Senate.
A spokesperson for Cruz accused the seven Democrats of “playing political games by filing frivolous ethics complaints against their colleagues.”
“Sen. Cruz debated a question of law and policy on the floor of the Senate, he did so expressly supported by 11 other Senators, and he utilized a process to raise the objection that has been explicitly authorized by federal law for nearly 150 years,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that “Cruz immediately condemned the January 6th terrorist attack on the Capitol, calling for everyone who stormed the Capitol to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The complaint comes as authorities are investigating hundreds of people in connection with the deadly pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol, including possible links to high-ranking Republicans who encouraged them.
Federal prosecutors said earlier this month that they are looking at everyone involved in the riot, including the role Trump played in inciting it. District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine warned Sunday that Trump could possibly be charged by city prosecutors with “a misdemeanor, a six-month-in-jail maximum,” amid fallout from the insurrection.
Hawley announced on December 30 that he would object during the Electoral College certification process, defying Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Nearly a dozen other Republican lawmakers, including Cruz, later announced that they, too, would object. But some changed their minds after the midday violence on January 6 – which is something the seven Democrats noted in their complaint.
“By proceeding with their objections to the electors after the violent attack, Senators Cruz and Hawley lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely,” the Democratic senators wrote.
The seven Democrats wrote Thursday that “The Senate has the exclusive power to determine whether (Hawley’s and Cruz’s) actions violated its ethics rules, to investigate further conduct of which we may not be aware that may have violated these rules, and to consider appropriate discipline.”
They urged investigators to probe issues including whether Hawley, Cruz or members of their offices or campaigns “were in contact or coordinated with the organizers of the rally,” “knew about the plans for the event” or “received funding from organizations or donors that also funded the rally.”
Whitehouse, one of the seven Democrats, told CNN on Thursday afternoon that he sent the letter because “we need to clear up exactly what happened.”
“The only place to get that done effectively is in the Senate, because you can’t trust executive branch agencies to do that investigation because they’re on the wrong side of the separation of powers,” he added.
Hawley, who is thought to harbor 2024 presidential ambitions, has borne the brunt of the blame for kicking off the actions that led to thousands of Trump supporters storming the Capitol complex and forcing the House and Senate to go into emergency lockdown. Hawley had offered pro-Trump demonstrators who stood outside the Capitol a raised-fist salute as he walked into the Senate early that day.
Publishing house Simon & Schuster dropped his upcoming book, which will now be released by conservative publisher Regnery Publishing. Several major companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Citigroup, announced they were halting donations to Hawley and other Republicans who objected to the Electoral College votes. Luxury hotel chain Loews Hotel Group has since canceled a fundraiser for Hawley, saying it’s opposed to “all who supported and incited” the deadly riot at the Capitol.
The complaint from the Democratic senators also quotes Missouri’s former Sen. John Danforth, Hawley’s onetime mentor, who told The New York Times that “lending credence to Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government.”
Danforth, whose support was central to Hawley winning his 2018 Republican primary, called supporting him “the worst mistake I ever made in my life” earlier this month.
This story has been updated with a statement from a spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Ali Zaslav, Dan Merica, Paul LeBlanc, Katelyn Polantz and Rebecca Grandahl contributed to this report.