Subpoenaed GOP lawmakers face risk of criminal contempt

The congressional panel investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol is leaving all enforcement options open — including criminal contempt — for subpoenaed GOP lawmakers who refuse to cooperate in the probe.

The select committee has already held two former Trump administration officials in criminal contempt — former advisor Stephen Bannon and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — for spurning the panel’s formal summons to testify.

One day after the committee issued similar subpoenas to five sitting House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), top members of the investigative panel said those lawmakers would enjoy no special immunities just because they currently serve on Capitol Hill.

“Members of Congress are citizens of the United States, so it would be the same options that are available to us generally,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former professor of constitutional law, said Friday when asked about the potential repercussions of noncompliance.

If there were any questions about whether criminal contempt is among those options, Raskin quickly put them to rest. In fact, he said, sitting lawmakers could face even greater disciplinary measures than other recalcitrant witnesses, given that House members are also subject to chamber ethics rules.

“We have all of the options that would be available to us, or someone like Steve Bannon or Mark Meadows,” he said, “and then additional options because they’re members of Congress.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the select committee, said he’s holding out hope that the subpoenaed Republicans will have a change of heart and cooperate in the probe. But echoing Raskin, he said the panel isn’t ruling out any enforcement tools if they refuse.

“There are options. Obviously, we could make a referral to Ethics,” Thompson said, referring to the House Ethics Committee. “We’ll discuss it. But look, all we’re saying is these are members of Congress who’ve taken an oath.”

Thompson, along with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the select committee’s vice chair, announced the subpoenas on Thursday following weeks of internal negotiations over the wisdom of targeting members of Congress sitting so aggressively. The move was an unprecedented step, one marking an extraordinary escalation in the wide-ranging probe into the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob stormed the building in a failed bid to overturn President Biden’s election victory.

The subpoenas target five GOP lawmakers: Reps. McCarthy, Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.). All of them are close allies of former President Trump who have promoted the lie that Trump won the 2020 election. All of them also have unique insights into the former White House’s effort to defeat Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory. And they’ve all refused to cooperate in the investigation voluntarily.

“There are some things that we found out that either need clarification on their part, or we’re left with… what our investigation has shown us,” Thompson said. “They are an integral part of that investigation, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Republicans have defended their refusal to participate, saying the investigation is merely a political exercise, concocted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and designed to damage Trump and the GOP at large.

“The border is in crisis, inflation is skyrocketing, crime is rampant, and Democrats are focused on manufacturing their own facts to take down Republican leaders,” Biggs said after the subpoenas were announced.

Despite the rhetorical defiance, however, none of the five Republicans has said they would refuse to comply with the subpoena. Several of the GOP lawmakers have said they simply haven’t seen it — an argument challenged by Thompson, who said he had signed each one.

“My understanding is they were served,” Thompson said.

McCarthy on Friday declined to comment.

Quite aside from events of Jan. 6, the new subpoenas have sparked a fierce debate about the broader implications of using congressional summonses to target sitting lawmakers.

Republicans are warning that it will create a dangerous precedent, setting the stage for a barrage of subpoenas from the majority party against the minority in years to come. Democrats have countered that the real danger would be if the subpoenaed lawmakers were to ignore the law and defy them.

“The basic principle of our rule of law is that everybody owes his or her truthful testimony to the government when a crime has been committed, or you know, when they’re subpoenaed,” Raskin said. “That’s not a complicated proposition.”

Thompson delivered a similar message, adding a warning to Republicans hoping to retaliate next year with their own subpoenas if they control the House after the midterm elections.

“The precedent ought to be for Republicans to honor the subpoena. If the Republicans choose not to, and then they take control of the House, then obviously, they don’t have many legs to stand on,” he said.

The committee intends to stage eight public hearings next month, with the first scheduled for June 9, although Thompson allowed for additional hearings “if the committee decides that it’s necessary.”

Mychael Schnell and Emily Brooks contributed reporting.

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