WASHINGTON (AP) – House committee is investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol formally issued an extraordinary subpoena to Donald Trump on Friday, demanding testimony from the former president, who lawmakers say “personally orchestrated” a multi-vote effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The nine-member panel issued a letter to Trump’s lawyers says he will testify, either at the Capitol or by video conference, “beginning on or around” Nov. 14 and continuing for several days if necessary.
The letter also outlined a wide-ranging request for documents, including personal communications between Trump and members of Congress as well as extremist groups. These must be submitted by November 4 at the latest, although the committee’s deadlines are generally subject to negotiation.
“We recognize that subpoenaing a former president is a significant and historic act,” Chairman Bennie Thompson and Vice Chairman Liz Cheney wrote in the letter to Trump. “We do not take this action lightly.”
The panel rooted its action in history, listing former presidents from John Quincy Adams to Gerald Ford who testified before Congress after leaving office — noting that even sitting presidents have responded to congressional subpoenas.
It is unclear how Trump and his legal team will respond. He could comply or negotiate with the committee, announce that he will defy the subpoena or ignore it altogether. He could also go to court and try to stop it.
“We understand that once again, in violation of norms and due process, the committee has released a copy of its subpoena,” David Warrington, a partner at Dhillon Law Group, which represents Trump, said in a statement late Friday. . “As with any similar case, we will review and analyze it and will respond as necessary to this unprecedented action.”
The subpoena is the latest and most striking escalation in the House committee’s 15-month investigation into the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, uprising, bringing members of the panel into direct conflict with the man they have been investigating from afar through testimony from aides, allies and associates.
In the letter, the committee wrote of the “overwhelming evidence” it has gathered showing that Trump “personally orchestrated” an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, including by spreading false allegations of widespread voter fraud, “attempting to corrupt” the Justice Department and pressured state officials, members of Congress and his own vice president to change the results.
“In short, you were at the center of the first and only effort by any American president to overturn an election and prevent the peaceful transition of power, ultimately culminating in a bloody attack on our own capital. and on Congress itself,” Thompson and Cheney said.
Lawmakers say key details about what Trump did and said during the siege remain unknown. According to the committee, the only person who can fill in the gaps is Trump himself.
The panel — made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans — approved the subpoena for Trump in a surprise vote last week. Every member voted in favour.
The subpoena calls for testimony about Trump’s dealings with several former aides and associates who have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to the committee, including Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and Kelli Ward.
“These Fifth Amendment claims — made by individuals with whom you have interacted — relate directly to you and your conduct,” the subpoena reads. “They provide specific examples where your truthful testimony under oath is important.”
The committee also made 19 requests for documents and communications — including for any messages Trump sent on the encrypted messaging app Signal “or any other means” to members of Congress and others about the stunning events of the Capitol attack.
The scope of the committee’s request is expansive — pursuing documents from Sept. 1, 2020, two months before the election, to the present on the president’s communications with groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — as the panel looks to compile a historical record of the run-up to the Capitol- the attack and then the aftermath.
But there is still little legal advantage for Trump to cooperate with the committee, as he already faces other civil and criminal battles in various jurisdictions, including over his family business in New York and the handling of presidential posts at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
It is possible that his lawyers may simply run out of the subpoena if they go to court to try to quash it, as the committee is required to complete its work by the end of the year.
“It seems unlikely to me that this can be litigated to completion in the time left before the committee in this Congress,” Peter Keisler, who served as acting attorney general under President George W. Bush, told The Associated Press.
There is ample precedent for Congress seeking testimony from a former president. Over the past century and a half, at least six current and former presidents have testified on Capitol Hill, including John Tyler and Quincy Adams, after both were impeached in 1848.
This could be Trump’s chance to respond directly to the committee to tell his version of events, but it’s unlikely the defeated president would take it. He has ridiculed the panel and its work and prefers to share his views on his own terms. And testifying under oath could create legal exposure in the several other investigations he’s caught up in.
If Trump refuses to comply with the subpoena, the panel will have to weigh the practical and political consequences of holding him in contempt of Congress.
“It’s a bridge we cross if we have to get there,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the committee, told ABC Sunday. “He’s made it clear he has nothing to hide, he says. So he should come in.”
If the full House voted to recommend contempt charges against Trump, the Justice Department would then review the case and decide on any further steps.
Other witnesses have faced legal consequences for defying the committee, including close Trump ally Steve Bannon, who was convicted of contempt in July and on Friday was sentenced to four months behind bars. But disparaging a former president would be another matter.
The subpoena for Trump comes as the committee seeks to wrap up its investigative work and produce a final, comprehensive report that will be released by the end of the year. Investigators have interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, including many of Trump’s top White House aides, and obtained tens of thousands of pages of documents since the committee was formed in July 2021.
But the panel is empowered only through this Congress, which ends on January 3. That means members have just a few short months — amid a hectic legislative period following the midterm elections — to refine their historic record of the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries. Whether it will include the testimony of the 45th President of the United States remains to be seen.
The committee concluded its subpoena to Trump by quoting one of his predecessors: “President (Theodore) Roosevelt explained during his congressional testimony, ‘a former president is merely a citizen of the United States, like any other citizen, and it is his ordinary duty to to attempt to assist this committee or respond to its invitation.’”
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Jill Colvin and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
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