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House panel votes to subpoena Trump over Jan. 6 attack

Members spent more than two hours laying out evidence against the former president, who is expected to launch a legal fight

A video of former President Donald Trump is played during the House Jan. 6 select committee’s hearing on Thursday.
A video of former President Donald Trump is played during the House Jan. 6 select committee’s hearing on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A House select committee voted Thursday to subpoena Donald Trump, seeking testimony from the former president in what members called his effort to overturn the 2020 election results that resulted in the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The unanimous vote came at the close of the panel’s hearing, during which members spent more than two hours laying out evidence of Trump’s actions to contest the results of the election — both before and after it became clear he had lost to President Joe Biden.

“We have no doubt, none, that Donald Trump led an effort to overturn American democracy,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said before the panel’s vote. “He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on Jan. 6, so we want to hear from him.”

Thompson acknowledged in his speech that launching the subpoena was a “serious and extraordinary action” that he wanted to bring out “in full view of the American public.” But he also said there was precedent for presidents to provide information to Congress.

Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as she offered a resolution to subpoena Trump, said the Justice Department might unearth facts that advisers close to Trump refused to tell the committee during its investigation.

“But our duty today is to our country and our children and our Constitution,” Cheney said. “We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion. And every American is entitled to those answers so we can act now to protect our republic.”

If the panel tries to enforce the subpoena, it would put Congress at odds with the litigious former president in a potential legal challenge to the subpoena. Such a case could rocket up to the Supreme Court, while the committee has only a few months left to issue its final report by the end of this Congress.

After the hearing, Thompson told reporters the committee still had to finalize the subpoena, including the date it would seek Trump’s testimony. Thompson also did not say whether the panel would seek to enforce the subpoena.

“Let’s just wait and see what he does,” Thompson said of Trump.

Trump, commenting shortly after the vote on his social media website Truth Social, criticized the committee for waiting so long to send a subpoena but did not say whether he would comply with it. Trump called the panel a “total ‘BUST’ that has only served to further divide our Country which, by the way, is doing very badly – A laughing stock all over the World?”

Evidence presented

Thursday’s hearing at times resembled a closing argument in a criminal trial, as all nine members of the panel argued Trump played a central role in efforts to overturn his loss. There were no witnesses, only a summary of the more than yearlong investigation into the cause of the attack.

Cheney said the panel had evidence to make multiple criminal referrals and legislative recommendations but that its work was not over. “A key task remains: We must seek the testimony under oath of Jan. 6’s central player,” Cheney said.

According to committee members Thursday, Trump’s effort started well before the election with plans to declare victory regardless of the outcome, continued with claims of fraud that Trump knew were false and culminated in Trump’s effort to push his supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6 itself.

“The central cause of Jan. 6 was one man, Donald Trump,” Cheney said.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., presented testimony that Trump was repeatedly told by his close advisers that his claims of election fraud were false. The panel then paired statements by then-Attorney General William Barr and other DOJ officials when they told Trump his claims were false, along with later speeches in which Trump made the same claims.

Thursday’s hearing came as the panel neared its deadline to produce a report by the end of the 117th Congress. Cheney pointed to the House’s passage of a bill to revise the Electoral Count Act earlier this year as one potential recommendation from the panel. She also said the panel may make further proposals in its final report.

The committee also aired previously unseen footage of senior lawmakers at the Capitol and at an undisclosed secure location during the attack, showing them asking acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to tell Trump to have his supporters leave the Capitol.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., also laid out multiple Secret Service emails and other records showing the agency knew before the attack that there was the possibility of violence. Aguilar noted that those records cast doubt on prior testimony about the agency’s knowledge of potential violence.

In addition, Aguilar said the committee was recalling witnesses after some documents had shed new light on an altercation between Trump and members of his protective detail after the rally that directly preceded the attack.

Aguilar said the panel will include more information about that testimony and those documents in its final report to the public.

Some of the former president’s allies jumped to his defense. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, in a statement after the vote, called the panel a “partisan witch hunt” and described it as “unconstitutional” and “a desperate political ploy by Democrats and their mainstream media stenographer allies” to distract from a coming “red tsunami” in the midterm election next month.

Republicans replaced Cheney with Stefanik as conference chair last year after Cheney’s public break with Trump and her criticism of the former president.

Thompson said the subpoena for Trump is not only about fact-finding but “a question about accountability to the American people.”

“He must be accountable. He is required to answer for his actions,” Thompson said. “He is required to answer to those police officers who put their lives and bodies on the line to defend our democracy. He is required to answer to those millions of Americans whose votes he wanted to throw out as part of his scheme to remain in power.”

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