WASHINGTON ― The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot has taken the unprecedented step of issuing subpoenas for five GOP lawmakers, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
The other lawmakers are Reps. Scott Perry (Pa.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.).
The committee had asked the five members to appear voluntarily before the panel to answer questions about their knowledge of and involvement with former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss on the day Congress was set to certify the results.
“Regrettably, the individuals receiving subpoenas today have refused and we’re forced to take this step to help ensure the committee uncovers facts concerning January 6th,” committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, wrote in a statement. “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.”
The committee had previously sent letters to all five members requesting their cooperation with the investigation and detailing what relevant information they possessed. Thursday’s news release from the committee referred to those earlier letters and summarized what the lawmakers could shed light on.
McCarthy, of California, for example, “was in communication with Trump before, during, and after the attack on Jan. 6th,” the committee wrote. “Mr. McCarthy also claimed to have had a discussion with the President in the immediate aftermath of the attack during which President Trump admitted some culpability for the attack.”
Perry, meanwhile, “was directly involved with efforts to corrupt the Department of Justice and install Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General,” the committee wrote.
Jordan was in contact with Trump on Jan. 6 itself and was involved in strategy meetings about overturning the election, while Biggs participated in the planning for the protest rally Trump staged just before the Capitol assault.
And Brooks spoke at the rally even though, the committee wrote, his staff had “met with members of Vice President Pence’s staff before January6th and conveyed the view that the Vice President does not have authority to unilaterally refuse to count certified electoral votes.”
House members under investigation by the House Ethics Committee have been subpoenaed in the past, but it’s not clear whether previous non-ethics probes have sought to compel testimony from House members.
Committee members have previously pointed out that no losing president has ever tried to reverse an election before by overthrowing American democracy. Nor has there been a violent attack on the Capitol designed to block the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.
On Thursday afternoon, McCarthy again attacked the investigation, as he has from nearly the start of congressional attempts to probe the riot. “I have not seen the subpoena. I guess they sent it to you guys before they sent it to me. Look, my view on the committee has not changed. They’re not conducting a legitimate investigation,” he told reporters.
If McCarthy and the other four members refuse to comply with the subpoenas, the House could vote to hold them in contempt and refer them to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
The House has already referred four Trump associates to DOJ: Peter Navarro, Dan Scavino, Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon. Of the four, Bannon has been indicted and is awaiting trial.
A criminal contempt charge cannot force someone to testify, but it does make that decision more expensive with added legal fees and time lost to court appearances. If it results in a conviction, it can lead to as much as a year behind bars.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office — killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and may have contributed to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed Jeffrey Clark instead of Mark Meadows as one of the four Trump associates the House referred to DOJ.