January 6 Committee Subpoenas Republican Leaders

An unprecedented manuever in response to unprecedented obstruction.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NBC News (“Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Kevin McCarthy, other Trump House allies“):

The committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol took the unprecedented step Thursday of issuing subpoenas to five Republican congressmen, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

The Democratic-controlled committee previously had asked the congressmen, who also include Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona, to sit for voluntary interviews, but all had refused.

With the exception of ethics committee investigations, the subpoenas are believed to be the first congressional subpoenas to sitting members and will almost certainly be challenged in court.

The panel has said that all five congressmen, who are allies of former President Donald Trump, have information critical to its probe of the deadly riot by a mob of Trump supporters seeking to disrupt President Joe Biden’s election victory.

“We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement.

McCarthy told reporters Thursday that he hadn’t yet seen the subpoena and said the panel is “not conducting a legitimate investigation. It seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents.”

NPR (“In an unprecedented move, the Jan. 6 panel subpoenas McCarthy and other Republicans“) adds:

All five had previously been asked to appear voluntarily and quickly refused. Now, their testimony is being compelled by month’s end, a move most of them quickly slammed on Thursday.

[…]

The committee did not issue a subpoena for Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, who also refused to testify voluntarily but said he was not part of documented text messages from extremist groups to provide him protection on Jan. 6.

[…]

There is little history of a congressional committee issuing subpoenas for members of Congress. The move now escalates the war between Republicans opposed to the investigation and the committee, which is comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

One of those committee Republicans, Vice Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, told NPR the panel faced a heavy decision to move forward with the subpoenas. Cheney was ousted as the No. 3 House Republican by McCarthy and other GOP members after she blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 attack.

“We asked these five individuals to come in and speak with us and they refused, and they have an obligation. They have critically important information about the attack that we need for the investigation,” Cheney said. “It’s a reflection of how important and serious the investigation is and how grave the attack on the Capitol was.”

The panel’s members have wrestled for months with the decision on whether to issue subpoenas for members and had signaled they may not want to set such a precedent. But Thompson said that thinking finally shifted for the panel.

“It’s a process, and the process is clearly one that required debate, discussion,” Thompson told NPR. “And ultimately, when they told us they were not coming, we issued the subpoena.”

In a WaPo opinion piece (“Jan. 6 panel’s subpoena of GOP members shows extent of Trump coverup“) Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent argue,

It was inevitable that sooner or later, the House committee examining the events of Jan. 6, 2021, would collide with the Republican Party’s attempt to cover up President Donald Trump’s extraordinarily corrupt and possibly criminal effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and remain in office illegitimately.

That now appears to have happened.

After unsuccessfully seeking voluntary testimony from key House Republicans — Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Reps. Mo Brooks (Ala.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) — the committee has issued them subpoenas compelling them to appear for depositions at the end of the month.

They will probably refuse. The position Republicans have taken is that the entire investigation is illegitimate, and therefore they can refuse any and all cooperation with it.

Members of the select committee, however, are treating it as a given that they will cooperate, since this is a legitimate investigation run by the body they themselves belong to.

Both things can be true. Because there’s no official Republican cooperation—the two “Republicans” on the committee were chosen by the Democratic Speaker and have all but been ousted from the GOP caucus—it’s easy to portray this is a partisan struggle in which the Democratic leadership is going after the former Republican President and his allies. And, indeed, they are. At the same time, it’s rather obvious that the crimes committed on that day were, at the very minimum, made more likely in the atmosphere Trump created and, quite likely, were intentionally egged on. “Political” though it may be, we have a right to know the extent of the GOP leadership’s cooperation with both the rioting and the broader attempt to steal the election.

As to why these five, Waldman and Sargent give persuasive and succinct arguments as to why their testimony is necessary:

  • Brooks appeared with Trump at the Jan. 6 rally near the White House at which Trump incited his supporters to head to the Capitol. Brooks gave a fiery speech telling the crowd to “do what it takes” to go after “weak-kneed Republicans” in Congress and save the country. What did Trump say to Brooks about what he hoped the mob would do?
  • Perry was deeply involved in strategizing with Trump aides on how to overturn the election in the weeks before Jan. 6. Texts with Meadows showed Perry urging the White House to enlist the American national security apparatus in that effort. What did Trump or others in the White House say in response?
  • Jordan also participated in White House meetings planning how to overturn the election, and he has admitted speaking with Trump multiple times on Jan. 6. What did Trump say about what he hoped the gathering rally might accomplish?
  • The committee earlier wrote to Biggs that it had information indicating he participated in White House planning sessions for Jan. 6 and sought to convince state legislators that the election was stolen and persuade them to help overturn it.

They add:

McCarthy’s testimony might be most important of all. The subpoena of McCarthy suggests that the committee is bearing down hard on the question of whether Trump came to see the violence, as it unfolded, as a weapon that could help carry out the procedural coup he’d been attempting for weeks.

You can see this in the committee’s previous letter to McCarthy requesting his testimony. It pointedly noted that McCarthy pleaded with Trump to call off the rioters as they threatened to break into his office.

Trump refused McCarthy’s pleading, snarling: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” As the committee noted, McCarthy’s testimony about this call could shed much more light on Trump’s “state of mind” as he said this.

It’s a stain on the party that they’re not actively cooperating with the investigation. As odious as Trump was, cooperating with him while he was in the White House was at least strategically and politically defensible. But it’s really, really hard to rationalize supporting the subversion of our democratic system and the literal invasion of the Capitol building in which they all work. That they and their colleagues may well have been killed by the rioters were it not for the swift action of the Capitol Police should surely have changed their perspective. That they’re doubling down is beyond shameful.

It seems, alas, that they will pay no political price for it. For reasons that Steven Taylor (especially) and I have been hammering at for the last several years, our system just isn’t very representative. Most of these Representatives are in “safe” seats and, indeed, the only way they could reasonably lose them is to be seen as “soft” on the Democrats and get ousted in the GOP primaries.

As to the subpoenas, there’s just too little precedent to go on. Theoretically, Congressional subpoenas are just as forceful as judicial ones. Practically, it will require the Biden Justice Department to arrest sitting Republican Members of Congress. The optics of that would be interesting, to say the least.

FILED UNDER: Capitol Riot, Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    While the optics of arresting sitting Republican members of Congress would be “interesting”, I see no downside for Mr. Biden in doing so, and thus following the law. Their supporters don’t support Biden anyway, and it’s time for Democrats to start fighting fire with fire.

    Besides, these are the folks screaming “law and order”.

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  2. Ken_L says:

    Can someone please tap these clowns on the shoulder and remind them the mid-terms are less than 6 months away? I can’t believe it’s true, but they are doing a brilliant impersonation of a committee trying to run out the clock before they have to produce results.

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  3. Scott says:

    It is an interesting dilemma for the subpoenaed Congressmen. Because they have all threatened Democrats with investigations if they take back the House. If they establish the precedent that they can just ignore an investigation, then so can any future Representative.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    I have been hammering at for the last several years, our system just isn’t very representative. Most of these Representatives are in “safe” seats and, indeed, the only way they could reasonably lose them is to be seen as “soft” on the Democrats and get ousted in the GOP primaries.

    I don’t think this is right in any but the few purple states left. It’s not that I disagree that our system is unrepresentative at a national level – it is. But at the state level? Picking a random example, Kentucky has produced two of the most odious Senators in office today. Is there any evidence that there is some kind of disenfranchised majority that would send them packing but for gerrymandering or voting hours or mail in ballots? It seems to me that at least 51% of Kentuckians are quite happy with the whole Republican clown show.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    If they (McCarthy et al) establish the precedent that they can just ignore an investigation, then so can any future Representative.

    Except USAG Ken Paxton or whoever will cheerfully arrest D Reps for non-appearance.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    I love the stuff about this being unprecedented, except for ethics committee subpoenas. This has never happened before!! Except for when this has happened before.

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  7. @MarkedMan:

    It seems to me that at least 51% of Kentuckians are quite happy with the whole Republican clown show.

    Sure–and that would be its own issue if the Senate itself wasn’t skewed. It is a systemic issue and should be seen as such.

    And it plugs into the wider party system and is why I think you miss my point about parties and why having more than two can alter behavior and outcomes because then voters don’t have to choose between just two options. There is zero pressure on someone like McConnell because there is no possible source of serious competitive pressure.

    Again, it is how the overall system shapes the behavior of voters and, thereby, of politicians.

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  8. Kathy says:

    The price the coup plotters should pay is not the loss of their seats or political careers, but several years in federal prison, along with Benito.

    That won’t happen, either, and that’s the real tragedy of the US electoral system.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t know how Rand Paul gets reelected, a feat he’s so far only pulled off once, although he’s favored again this year. Moscow Mitch gets reelected because he spends gobs of money. He doesn’t poll well, most recent data I find was early ’21 and showed him underwater in KY by 12 points. But every six years he comes home, pretends to be a good ol’ boy, and buys a ton of media. Then he returns to DC and does the will of his owners. Money is the underlying structural problem in our politics and we don’t talk about it much.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m talking about Representatives, not Senators, although it applies to them to a lesser degree. But for a Representative in a district that’s 70-30 Republican, the only constituency that has the ability to hold McCarthy, Brooks, et al accountable is the Republican primary voter.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I agree that our governmental structure and process can be improved, but I still get the feeling that you are letting the citizens off the hook. Does a minority of the majority party pick the candidates? Sure. But that is always true in every governmental system. Heck, it’s true in virtually every large organization I’ve ever come across. People that are impassioned and involved have at least an order of magnitude more suasion than the 70-95% of the people who just kind of go along. The impassioned minority of the majority in Kentucky and Mississippi and Alabama seem delighted with their Reps, and the larger number of ones who just go along don’t seem to be unhappy either. In other words, the Reps are the manifestation of the citizenry’s desires.

    It’s what I meant when I said “Trump IS the Republican Party”. Some read that as me saying that Trump holds absolute authority in the Party and voters will do what he says, but the vaccine and a hundred other things shows that’s not true, that the Republican rank and file have no problem ignoring Trump whenever they don’t want to hear what he has to say. No, what I mean is that he is the perfect manifestation of what the Republican rank and file wants. And in Republican states, that makes it fair to say he is the perfect manifestation of what the majority of the state citizenry want.

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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    What a waste.
    The January 6th Committee is a complete and utter failure.
    Benghazi – Republicans hold 11 televised hearings and make Clinton endure 11 hours of grilling. All over a nothing-burger.
    January 6th – 16 months after a bloody coup attempt and nothing has happened, even though we all watched it play out live on TV.
    And Mo Brooks is so NOT worried that he has already admitted that the 5 who were subpoenaed are actively conspiring to obstruct.

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  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Ken_L: Wait?!? You thought this was about producing results?

    (Oh dear…)

    […] “It’s a stain on the party…”
    But is it? Really? As you note, none of these yahoos is going to “pay a price” for their treachery and deceit. The Republicans will most likely gain control of Congress in the next election and probably win in 2024 (at which point, things will really get exciting 🙁 ). What stain? That history will look down on this time in 100 years? As if the GQP even GAF.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @Ken_L: Public hearings are planned for June. They’ve been planned for June for a while.

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  15. Jon says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    January 6th – 16 months after a bloody coup attempt and nothing has happened, even though we all watched it play out live on TV.

    Over 700 arrests, over 70 convictions (not counting plea deals and/or ongoing cooperation) and Stewart Rhodes’ attorney is on record as saying:

    “I think it’s self-evident that they are continuing to work their way up the food chain to get to who their grand prize is,” Lee Bright, a defense lawyer for Rhodes, said in an interview, referring to speculation that the Justice Department will eventually target Trump.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    The committee may only have five months, but the DOJ has two and a half years.

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    June seems about right. Maybe even closer to the election might be better, but it will at least help sound the alarm when the trump states are actively trying to install kooks and nincompoops as election overseers.

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  18. DAllenABQ says:

    The subpoenas are for show; nobody expects the targets to appear. The J6 Committee already has the information to demonstrate what they did and what role they played, and this will come out in the June hearings.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I have more faith in the committee than the DOJ.

    Without the committee setting a clear narrative that the country finds disgusting, the DOJ *might* get a few of the bad actors, but they will be quickly replaced by other bad actors and the antidemocratic problem will continue.

    I do not have a whole lot of faith in the committee though. But more than in the DOJ.

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  20. Barry says:

    @Jon: “Over 700 arrests, over 70 convictions (not counting plea deals and/or ongoing cooperation) and Stewart Rhodes’ attorney is on record as saying:”

    Schmucks do not count!
    They are expendable.

    If this is a game of the GOP storms Congress and some schmucks pull down a few years (or months), then the GOP can play that all day long.

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  21. Barry says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “The committee may only have five months, but the DOJ has two and a half years.”

    Hold hearings on the DOJ and make all of them spend 168 hours per week defending themselves.

    Subpoena all evidence, leak it.

    Hold hearings, invite traitors to testify, give them sweeping immunity to break the DOJ’s cases.

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I know FEMA reeducation camps and summary executions are much desired, but DEMs seem to be very much wedded to the idea of process. A whole lot of folks wish they would just throw “process” out the window.

    I understand as I am frustrated as well. That being said, I am still waiting for a better way forward than being “just as bad or worse than Republicans.” To my ears it just doesn’t sound like a winning formula.

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