U.S. House investigators said Thursday they have issued subpoenas to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, an extraordinary step that has little precedent and is certain to further inflame partisan tensions over the 2021 attack.
The Jan. 6 panel’s subpoenas for McCarthy, and Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama come as the investigation is winding down and as the panel prepares for a series of public hearings this summer.
After the announcement, McCarthy, who aspires to be House speaker if Republicans take the majority in midterm elections, told reporters that “I have not seen a subpoena,” and that his view on the committee has not changed since they asked for his voluntary co-operation earlier this year.
“They’re not conducting a legitimate investigation,” McCarthy said. “Seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents.”
The panel had previously asked for voluntary co-operation from the five men, along with a handful of other Republican lawmakers, but all of them refused to speak with the panel, which debated for months whether to issue the subpoenas.
“Before we hold our hearings next month, we wished to provide members the opportunity to discuss these matters with the committee voluntarily,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the panel. “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.”
Consequences of defying subpoenas unclear
Congressional subpoenas for sitting members of Congress, especially for a party leader, have little precedent in recent decades, and it is unclear what the consequences would be if any or all of the five men decline to comply. The House has voted to hold two other noncompliant witnesses, former Trump aides Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows, in contempt, referring their cases to the U.S. Justice Department.
The committee has been investigating McCarthy’s conversations with then-U.S. president Donald Trump the day of the attack and meetings that the four other lawmakers had with the White House as Trump and his aides conspired how to overturn his defeat.
In announcing the subpoenas, the Jan. 6 panel said there is historical precedent for the move and noted that the House Ethics Committee has “issued a number of subpoenas to Members of Congress for testimony or documents,” though such actions are generally done secretly.
McCarthy has acknowledged that he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, which happened as Trump’s supporters were beating police outside the Capitol and forcing their way into the building. But he has not shared many details. The committee requested information about his conversations with Trump “before, during and after” the riot.
McCarthy took to the House floor after the rioters were cleared and said in a forceful speech that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack and that it was the “saddest day I have ever had” in Congress — even as he went on to join 138 other House Republicans in voting to reject the election results.
The Republican leader soon made up with Trump, though, visiting him in Florida and rallying House Republicans to vote against investigations of the attack.
The other four men were in touch with the White House for several weeks ahead of the insurrection, talking to Trump and his legal advisers about ways to stop the congressional electoral count on Jan. 6 to certify Joe Biden’s victory. Several of their efforts were detailed in texts released to the committee by Meadows, who was Trump’s chief of staff at the time.
“These members include those who participated in meetings at the White House, those who had direct conversations with President Trump leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol, and those who were involved in the planning and coordination of certain activities on and before January 6th,” the committee said in a release.