WASHINGTON — The decision by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to issue subpoenas to five Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, sent sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill, heightening tensions in an already hostile environment and raising questions about the future of the investigation and the institution itself.
The Democratic-led panel’s decision has staged a showdown with Republicans that could lead to the threat of jail time against incumbent members of Congress – including Mr McCarthy, who is set to be president if his party wins control of the House in November. It also had major implications for the investigation and whether the country will ever get full answers about the deadly mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which disrupted the peaceful transfer of power and did more than 150 police officers injured.
Some Democrats immediately began demanding that Mr. McCarthy and other lawmakers be held in criminal contempt if they fail to appear for their scheduled depositions in late May, while Republicans warned of retaliation if they take control of the House after the midterm elections.
“I wouldn’t be for it, but the turnaround is fair game,” Rep. Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, said of the retaliatory subpoenas. He called the committee’s January 6 subpoenas a “horrible precedent for the institution”, adding: “It’s a race to the bottom.”
The panel’s decision to compel the cooperation of Mr. McCarthy and Representatives Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama was a significant escalation that many on Capitol Hill called congressional investigations unprecedented in modern history. In the House, subpoenas are almost never issued outside of the ethics committee, which is tasked with investigating allegations of member misconduct. But it’s also extremely rare for lawmakers to outright refuse to cooperate with an investigation.
“We have never had a situation where members of Congress have participated or have been suspected of participating in an insurrection,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking to to reporters on Capitol Hill. Republicans “have a duty to testify. If they do not testify voluntarily, they must be subpoenaed and the subpoena must be applied criminally if necessary.
Mr Nadler said a contempt vote would be ‘the next thing to do’ if the men do not comply with subpoenas.
The subpoenaed Republicans were discussing internally how best to respond to what they saw as gross overreaching by the committee, according to people familiar with their thinking who described it on condition of anonymity.
All five have publicly criticized the panel as illegitimate, but privately some admit the courts upheld the panel’s subpoena power and watched with concern as other uncooperative witnesses were referred to the Justice Department. to be prosecuted.
Republicans think there’s a clear political advantage to challenging the committee — because former President Donald J. Trump’s base would almost certainly look favorable on the move — but some also worry about weakening the committee. authority of their own subpoenas if their party gains control of Congress. .
Mr McCarthy disparaged the committee’s investigation as politically motivated and he repeatedly declined to answer questions on Friday. In recent months, he has had discussions with William A. Burck, a longtime Washington attorney, about how to fight a subpoena.
Top House Democrats have said they support the committee’s decision and will not dodge any Republican subpoenas in the future.
“I’m not afraid of precedents. We seek the truth. And we’re not going to be cowardly about it,” said President Nancy Pelosi of California.
“If they want to subpoena me at some point in the future, I will go and tell the truth,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat. “Nancy Pelosi is under subpoena. No one is above the law. No one should be above the proceedings of this Congress or the courts. Period.”
Mr. Hoyer suggested that Mr. McCarthy could respond to the subpoena very easily: “Just agree to come to the committee voluntarily and tell the truth.
Mr. Perry and Mr. Biggs are due to appear before the committee on May 26; Mr. Jordan is scheduled for May 27; Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Brooks are due to testify on May 31.
The men each played central roles in the former president’s plan to use Congress to help him overturn the 2020 election.
For weeks, members and investigators of the House special panel have privately agonized over the aggressiveness with which to prosecute sitting members of Congress, weighing their desire for information about lawmakers’ direct interactions with Mr. Trump versus the potential legal difficulties and political consequences of doing so.
During those discussions, members were keenly aware of the potential for backfire, given that Mr. McCarthy has made no secret of his plans to retaliate against Democrats if Republicans take control of the House. He named committee member Rep. Adam B. Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, as potential targets.
But both men privately said they understood the risks and did not want the panel to hold on their behalf.
“I wanted to make it clear that I didn’t want protection if it meant not subpoenaing them,” said Mr. Swalwell, whom Mr. McCarthy had pledged to dismiss from the Intelligence Committee. “I shared this with a few members. Whether we subpoena them or not, they’re going after me, that’s how I see it.
Republicans have already started planning a full slate of investigations in case they take control of the House, including how they could use subpoenas to target Democrats on a range of issues, according to two people familiar with the issues. planes.
The subjects of those investigations are expected to include the president’s son, Hunter Biden, including his sale of artwork and business dealings; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic; Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s initiative to address threats of violence and harassment directed at school administrators; the Biden administration’s handling of immigration on the southwest border; and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan.
Members of the Jan. 6 committee were reluctant on Friday to discuss the possibility of holding Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans in contempt of Congress, a move that would result in the filing of a criminal indictment before a grand jury. They maintained that they believed Republicans would comply.
This charge carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. The committee recommended it be applied to four uncooperative witnesses, including Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon, who has since been indicted.
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill Friday that if the men do not comply, another option beyond a contempt charge could be a referral to the committee. ‘ethics.
Mr. Thompson pointed out that if Republicans do not honor subpoenas and take control of the House next year, they will have weakened their own investigative powers.
“The precedent should be for Republicans to honor the subpoena,” Mr. Thompson said. “If the Republicans choose not to, and then they take over the House, then obviously they don’t have a lot of legs to stand on.”
The committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and is preparing for a series of eight public hearings in June to reveal its findings. Mr Thompson said more hearings could be added as the panel learns more information.
He added that subpoenas for other members of Congress, including senators, were still under consideration.