There is no doubt that the committee investigating the January 6 attack escalated matters in a bold and historically significant way yesterday. There is no historical precedent for a select committee to subpoena sitting members of Congress, but the bipartisan panel did just that yesterday afternoon.
This has led to a number of compelling questions, not the least of which was the most obvious: Will the subpoenaed House Republicans obey or not?
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of five GOP members who received a subpoena yesterday, told reporters shortly after the news broke: “Look, my opinion of the committee hasn’t changed. They do not conduct legitimate research. It seems like they just want to go after their political opponents.”
We already know that both points are wrong. Following a series of federal court rulings, the legitimacy of the commission and its investigation is beyond question. As for the idea that the panel is simply targeting political opponents, it is important to emphasize that each of the subpoenaed members has unique and highly relevant perspectives.
It’s not that congressional investigators simply elected every member of the Republican leadership, or targeted arbitrary far-right members. These five were chosen for purely substantive reasons.
But in an unexpected twist, as he complained, McCarthy didn’t immediately come out and say he would refuse to comply with the subpoena. In fact, none of the subpoenaed members — a group that includes representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Andy Biggs of Arizona — officially stated that they would call off the subpoena.
It’s entirely possible that they’re announcing their intentions in a more formal way today, but for now it’s worth considering why they paused. A Washington Post report noted:
Subpoenas are legally binding requests to testify; violation may result in a fine or imprisonment. Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon is on trial this summer for ignoring a Jan. 6 subpoena from the commission. Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows could also be charged with ignoring his.
Precisely. Canceling an offer to testify voluntarily is a political problem; ignoring a legally binding subpoena opens the door to a legal problem.
If any or all of these five Republicans refuse to obey, the House could despise them and likely be referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
They could very well be taking their chances, especially with the midterm elections approaching, but it helps explain why these GOP lawmakers took a break yesterday.
As for the idea that Republicans will start issuing their own subpoenas against Democratic members once there is a GOP majority again, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters yesterday: “If they want to subpoena me at some point in the future, I will go in there and tell the truth….Just agree to voluntarily talk to the commission and tell the truth. That’s what they’re looking for. The truth.”
For now, the truth about January 6 is something these Republicans would like to keep hidden.