Five Trump allies, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy ordered to testify in January 6 riot probe
The decision by the committee investigating the January 6, 2021 US Capitol insurrection to slap House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers with subpoenas threatens to plunge Congress into deeper division.
No one could recall a committee other than ethics panels trying to force the testimony of colleagues, and the decision risks a near-term legal clash and long-term political reprisals.
“We’re in a new chapter,” said lawyer Thomas Spulak.
Members of the investigatory panel said they are under pressure to complete their work and still need vital information from Minority Leader Mr McCarthy and four other allies of former President Donald Trump about the riot.
“It’s a reflection of how important and serious the investigation is and how grave the attack on the Capitol was,” said committee Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Ms Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the nine-seat panel’s only other Republican, and Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland were the committee members leading the push to subpoena lawmakers.
Mr Kinzinger is not running for re-election but Ms Cheney is locked in a competitive August primary battle with a candidate backed by Mr Trump and Mr McCarthy.
Experts say they can recall no committee other than the Senate and House ethics panels ever subpoenaing a member of Congress.
The decision presents risks of new levels of acrimony within the Capitol itself – and likely retribution from a future Republican majority.
So far, the panel has conducted or taken more than 1,000 interviews and depositions, and gathered more than 100,000 documents, and is now arranging eight public hearings for June. A final report is planned for early autumn – before the November mid-term elections.
But Mr McCarthy – who could ascend to the speakership next year if Republicans win the House majority – and GOP representatives Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, Mo Brooks and Andy Biggs are signalling they will not cooperate.
“It seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents,” Mr McCarthy said on Thursday.
For Mr Jordan, deciding whether to comply comes with added wrinkles.
As the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, he would likely become chair of the panel and has indicated he is already planning what investigations to launch if his party takes power.
His snubbing a congressional subpoena now would almost certainly be cited by anyone he might later seek to summon as chairman.
All five have refused to voluntarily offer testimony though none said on Thursday whether they would comply with the subpoenas.
Efforts to get judicial enforcement of these subpoenas, if the five men refuse to cooperate, would likely result in extended litigation.
Washington lawyer Abbe David Lowell, who served as chief minority counsel to the House during the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, said that “there’s nothing that exempts a member of Congress just because he or she is a member of Congress.”
But by the time the matter works its way through the courts, the committee’s work could be long finished, and Republicans could hold subpoena power.
“Will they not use this? And I think the answer is, absolutely,” Mr Spulak said. “I think the indications are already there – given the number of other things Democrats have done, such as removing members from committees and things like that – and Republicans have said we’re going to do the same thing.
Other legal experts, including Irvin Nathan, suggest the way to avoid lengthy litigation is to take the subpoena issues to the House Ethics Committee to determine whether refusal to comply are violations of House rules and standards. For now, committee members claim they aren’t thinking about that.
“We are in a hurry, obviously to complete all of the interviews that we can,” said Mr Raskin. “But it’s not a game.”