The House committee looking into the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6 has formally issued a special subpoena to Donald Trump. Investigators are requesting evidence from the ex-president, who legislators claim “personally coordinated” an extensive campaign to invalidate the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
According to a letter the nine-member panel sent to Trump’s attorneys, the former president must testify, either in person at the Capitol or via videoconference. He must do so “starting on or about” November 14 and continue for more days if required.
The letter also specified a broad request for records, including any private correspondence between Trump and Congressmen and any communications with radical organizations. Although the Committee’s deadlines are typically negotiable, those are due on November 4.
Chair Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney noted in the letter to Trump, “We understand that a summoning a former president is a momentous and historic step.” We don’t take this step lightly,” they added.
The panel cited historical examples to support its position, citing former presidents like John Quincy Adams and Gerald Ford, who gave testimony to Congress after leaving office.
How Trump and his team of lawyers will react is unknown. He might accede, compromise with the Committee, declare he would ignore the subpoena, or all three. He could attempt to stop it in court.
David Warrington, a lawyer with the Dhillon Law Group representing Trump, said, “We hear that the Committee has publicly disclosed a copy of the subpoena, flouting norms and acceptable and customary process once again. We will evaluate and analyze it and respond to this unusual move as appropriate, just like we would with any similar matter.”
The subpoena is the most shocking development in the House committee’s 15-month inquiry into the catastrophic January 6, 2021, uprising. It puts the panel’s members in direct conflict with the subject they have been looking into from a distance through the statements of associates, allies, and staffers.
The Committee discussed the “compelling evidence” it had gathered in the letter, which showed Trump “personally orchestrated” a campaign to avenge his loss in the 2020 election. This campaign included spreading untrue claims of large-scale voter fraud, “desperately trying to corrupt” the Justice Department, and applying pressure to public officials, Congress members, and even his vice president to alter the outcome.
“In short, you were at the core of the first and only attempt by any U.S. President to annul an election and block the orderly transfer of power, culminating in a murderous onslaught on our Capitol and on the Congress itself,” read the Cheney and Thompson subpoena.
Critical information, according to lawmakers, concerning what Trump did and said during the siege is still unclear. The group claims that Trump is the sole individual capable of filling up the gaps.
In an unexpected vote last week, the panel made up of two Republicans, and seven Democrats authorized the subpoena for Trump. Each member cast a favorable vote.
Testimonies from Trump’s Allies
The subpoena requests testimony about Trump’s interactions with some former advisers and associates, such as Kelli Ward, Roger Stone, Jeffrey Clark, Michael Flynn, and John Eastman. They have all notified the Committee that they intend to exercise their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
The subpoena letter states, “These Fifth Amendment statements – made by those with whom you engaged — connected directly to you and your conduct. They give particular instances where it will be vital for you to give an oath of truth.”
The Committee also issued 19 requests for records and communications, including any messages Trump may have sent to lawmakers and others regarding the extraordinary events of the Capitol attack through several means, including the secure messaging app Signal.
The Committee is seeking correspondence between the president and organizations such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys between September 1, 2020 (two months prior to the election) and the present to build a historical record of the events leading up to and following the attack on the Capitol.
But given that he is already embroiled in numerous civil and criminal court cases, including those involving his business empire in New York and the management of presidential documents at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida, there is little legal benefit for Trump to assist with the Committee.
Committee Running Out of Time
Investigators are required to complete their work before the end of the year, so it’s likely that Trump’s attorneys will try to stop the subpoena by going to court to fight it.
Peter Keisler, a former acting attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, said that it “seems doubtful” that this could be brought to resolution in the time left to the Committee in this Congress.
There are numerous instances in which Congress has requested testimony from a previous president. At least six past and former American presidents have testified on Capitol Hill during the last 150 years. They include John Tyler and Quincy Adams after they were both summoned in 1848.
Trump may use this opportunity to address the Committee directly and provide his version of the events, but it’s unlikely he would do so. He has made fun of the Committee and its work, choosing instead to express his opinions independently. And giving testimony under oath might put him in legal jeopardy in a number of other inquiries he is involved in.
The panel will have to consider the legal and political ramifications of declaring Trump in contempt of Congress if he fails to cooperate with the subpoena.
The Justice Department would examine the matter and determine the appropriate next steps if the entire House votes to approve a contempt charge against Trump.
Other witnesses, such as key Trump associate Steve Bannon, who was found guilty of contempt and was given a four-month prison sentence on Friday, have also faced legal repercussions for ignoring the Committee. Holding a previous president in contempt, however, would be a different situation.
Trump has been served with the subpoena as the Committee works to complete its investigation and put together a detailed final report that will be released by the end of the year. Since the Committee was established in July 2021, investigators have spoken with over 1,000 witnesses, including many of Trump’s top White House advisers.
However, it is still being determined if it will include the testimony of the 45th president of the United States.