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January 6 committee subpoenas 5 GOP lawmakers close to Trump, including McCarthy

Top Republican among 5 subpoenaed in Jan. 6 probe
Top House Republican among 5 subpoenaed in January 6 probe 02:20

Washington — The House select committee investigating the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas Thursday to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other House Republicans, a significant escalation in its efforts to obtain information from GOP lawmakers as part of its probe.

In addition to McCarthy, the select committee subpoenaed Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona for testimony. The demand from the panel is likely to spark a legal fight, as others who have been called to testify before lawmakers, such as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have turned to the courts to challenge subpoenas issued by House investigators. 

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said the GOP lawmakers have information relevant to its investigation, and the panel was forced to issue the subpoenas after they rebuffed the opportunity to participate voluntarily.

"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," he said in a statement.

If the five Republicans defy the subpoenas, Thompson said the committee could recommend contempt charges, as it has done for others, though members have not discussed that step. The panel could also make a referral to the House Ethics Committee or explore other civil options, he said, adding the committee is "taking it one step at a time" and hopes lawmakers comply with their subpoenas.

President Trump Speaks In The Rose Garden Of White House After Meeting With Congressional Leaders On Gov't Shutdown
President Trump speaks as he joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the Rose Garden of the White House on January 4, 2019. Getty Images

The panel asked the Republican lawmakers for their voluntary cooperation with their investigation into January 6 riots, but they declined to provide information to its members. Brooks, who spoke at the rally outside the White House hours before the Capitol attack, said earlier this month that while he would have testified voluntarily at some point in the past, he would only do so if subpoenaed and vowed to fight such a demand. 

While the select committee has issued subpoenas for McCarthy, Jordan, Brooks, Perry and Biggs, it has also asked GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson to participate in voluntary meetings with investigators. It's unclear whether the panel will subpoena Jackson in the future.

The panel told Jordan and Brooks in earlier requests for information they would like to discuss conversations the two had with former President Donald Trump regarding his efforts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Investigators believe Perry played an "important role" in efforts to install former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general, and found the Pennsylvania Republican communicated with Meadows about Clark through text messages and Signal, an encrypted messaging app.

The committee believes Biggs participated in meetings at the White House and remotely regarding planning for January 6, including on the strategy for Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes from key battleground states Trump lost in the 2020 presidential election. The panel also said it learned Biggs was involved in plans to bring protesters to Washington on January 6, when lawmakers were convening for a joint session to count state electoral votes and reaffirm President Biden's win. Additionally, it has information about Biggs' alleged efforts to convince state officials the 2020 election was stolen and to seek their help with Trump's efforts to overturn the results, and former White House staff identified Biggs as potentially involved in effort to seek a presidential pardon for activities tied to Trump's campaign to reverse the election outcome.

The panel said McCarthy was in contact with Trump "before, during and after" January 6, and wants information about his conversations with fellow lawmakers in the days after the January 6 attack. In a conference call with Republican leaders, McCarthy said the then-president had acknowledged bearing some blame for the assault, according to recently released audio.

"He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needs to acknowledge that," the top House Republican said. 

McCarthy said in another leaked call that he was considering asking Trump to resign. 

"The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign," he told Rep. Liz Cheney in a January 10, 2021, call, referring to an impeachment resolution crafted by House Democrats. Cheney is one of two Republicans on the January 6 committee and serves as vice chair.

At the Capitol on Thursday, Cheney said the decision to subpoena sitting members of Congress was "a reflection of how important and serious the investigation is, and how grave the attack on the Capitol was."

"We asked these five individuals to come in and speak with us and they've refused, and they have an obligation," the Wyoming Republican said. "They have critically important information about the attack that we need for the investigation."

The committee has signaled for weeks that it could issue subpoenas if the congressmen didn't voluntarily comply with their requests. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the other Republican on the panel, told "Face the Nation" earlier this month that the committee would "ultimately [do] whatever we can do to get that information" from members.

"We've requested information from various members. In terms of whether we move forward with a subpoena, [that] is going to be both a strategic, tactical decision and a question of whether or not, you know, we can do that and get the information in time," Kinzinger said in the May 1 interview.

Kinzinger said Thursday that the committee members were "well aware" of "the impact" of subpoenaing members of Congress, but "what happened in January 6 was unprecedented."

McCarthy, Perry and Brooks said they had not yet received the subpoenas before the committee announced them, but they denounced the proceedings conducted by their colleagues.

Perry told reporters the demands were "all about distracting America from their abysmal record of running America into the ground," while McCarthy said the committee is "not conducting a legitimate investigation." Brooks said in a statement his compliance hinges on several factors, including whether his testimony will be public, whether questions will be limited to events relevant to the January 6 assault, and who will be questioning him. The Alabama Republican also said he plans to consult with the other Republicans the committee wants to depose.

In the course of its investigation into the January 6 insurrection and events surrounding it, the committee has issued more than 90 subpoenas to a wide range of former White House aides, allies of Trump, former campaign officials, organizers of the rallies protesting the results of the 2020 election and far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

A number of prospective witnesses have unsuccessfully tried to nullify the subpoenas in federal court. Most recently, a U.S. district judge in Washington rejected an attempt by the Republican National Committee to block a subpoena from the select committee to its email fundraising vendor, finding the committee was seeking information relevant to its investigation.

The House has also voted to hold Meadows, and former White House top aides Dan Scavino, Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after they failed to comply with subpoenas. Bannon was indicted by a federal grand jury in November for refusing to appear for a deposition and turn over documents, and has pleaded not guilty.    

Some members of Trump's family, meanwhile, have spoken to House investigators, including Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law.

Much of the committee's work thus far has been conducted behind closed doors, with lawmakers and staff conducting more than 900 interviews and depositions and receiving more than 100,000 documents in the course of their probe. But the panel's examination of the January 6 assault will enter its public phase next month, holding a series of eight hearings beginning June 9.

Zak Hudak and Ellis Kim contributed to this report.

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