WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks got straight to the point on Thursday, bypassing requests for testimony from four key aides to former President Trump, and instead issuing subpoenas that carry the force of law and could be enforced with criminal penalties.
The committee’s request also hinted at new information that the bipartisan panel has received from the Justice Department and the Pentagon about the activities of the top Trump aides leading up to and on Jan. 6.
But the committee nonetheless faces an uphill battle in compelling testimony from the four individuals in a timely manner, and the former Trump advisers and associates are expected to drag out the process through the courts.
The committee sent the subpoenas to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former White House adviser Steve Bannon, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, and former Pentagon chief of staff Kashyap Patel. In addition to testimony, the committee is seeking documents and electronic records from all four.
The committee’s letter to Meadows cited documents provided by the Justice Department that it said demonstrated that he “directly communicated with the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states … even after such allegations had been dismissed by state and federal courts, and after the Electoral College had met and voted on December 14, 2020.”
A press release from the committee said that it is seeking more information on how Meadows was “part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election or prevent the election’s certification.”
The committee’s letter to Patel cited documents provided by the Department of Defense that the letter said showed he was “involved in discussions with senior DoD officials regarding planning for security at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and responding to events that followed the attack.”
Patel was installed at the Pentagon after the presidential election, along with a new and relatively unknown figure who Trump named secretary of defense — Christopher J. Miller. Patel came from the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and was considered a Trump loyalist. The committee’s focus on his involvement In security planning at the Capitol suggests an interest in how and why Congress was so vulnerable to the violent assault, and whether the National Guard’s slow response that day might have been hindered on purpose to give rioters more time to disrupt certification of the election results.
The insurrection resulted in the deaths of four people that day, and one Capitol Police officer who died the next day of a stroke. About 140 police officers were injured during the attack, and four additional police officers who responded to the assault have since died by suicide.
The letter to Bannon — who left the White House in acrimony after only eight months in the job but who worked his way back into Trump’s orbit last year — refers to new details that have come to light in a recently released book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. That book, “Peril,” details how Bannon allegedly played a crucial role in getting Trump to return to Washington from Florida on Jan. 6 to make a concerted effort to stop the certification of the election in Congress.
According to the book, Bannon also used a Jan. 5 meeting at D.C.’s Willard Hotel to lobby members of Congress to vote against certifying the vote.
And Scavino, who sometimes tweeted from Trump’s account, was subpoenaed in large part because he was the aide who was most often in close physical proximity to Trump. “It ... appears that you were with or in the vicinity of former President Trump on January 6 and are a witness regarding his activities that day,” the committee’s letter to Scavino said.
The question now is if and how the subpoenas could be enforced. Trump, in a statement Thursday night, said that “we will fight the subpoenas on executive privilege and other grounds.” But it’s not clear whether a former president can block testimony by former aides.
“The subpoenas raise novel constitutional issues about the applicability of executive privilege … to former advisers to a now former president,” Jonathan David Shaub, a former Justice Department attorney now teaching law at the University of Kentucky, told Yahoo News.
The four men who have been subpoenaed, “if they so choose, can likely tie these issues up in court for some time,” Shaub said. “But if they decide to testify in compliance with the subpoenas, it is very unlikely that Trump would be able to stop them. In other words, whether the committee ultimately hears their testimony may depend on to what degree they are still willing to follow Trump's directions.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on CNN Thursday night that he and others on the committee hope that “the Justice Department would be open to be considering potential criminal contempt charges against anyone who ignores the law” and refuses to testify. How that process might play out is not yet clear.
Other committee members have already said over the summer that they expected enforcement of the subpoenas to be a major test. “We will exhaust every possible legal and legislative means to compel them to respect the rule of law,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said in July.
And at the committee’s first hearing, also in July, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., said that the committee “must issue and enforce subpoenas promptly.”
“We must get to objective truth. We must overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts,” Cheney said.
Read more from Yahoo News: