The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol issued a subpoena Friday for testimony and documents from former president Donald Trump, setting off a potentially prolonged legal battle with little historic precedent.
While the subpoena was anticipated, it is a remarkable escalation in the investigation into whether the deadly violence on Jan. 6 was the direct result of Trump’s actions in the weeks after he lost his bid for reelection.
“As demonstrated in our hearings, we have assembled overwhelming evidence, including from dozens of your former appointees and staff, that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multipart effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transition of power,” Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a statement, part of a 10-page letter to Trump.
The committee voted unanimously last week to issue the subpoena in its final hearing after presenting new evidence about the president’s actions on Jan. 6. Legal experts have warned if Trump defies the subpoena, the committee faces a number of legal hurdles in its effort to get the former president to comply.
Trump is being represented in the matter by the Dhillon Law Group, and it’s not clear whether he will cooperate with the subpoena.
“We understand that, once again, flouting norms and appropriate and customary process, the Committee has publicly released a copy of its subpoena,” David A. Warrington, a partner at Dhillon Law Group, said in a statement Friday evening. “As with any similar matter, we will review and analyze it, and will respond as appropriate to this unprecedented action.”
Lawmakers on the committee, however, have expressed optimism that the former president will comply and have declined to comment on next steps they’d pursue to compel Trump’s cooperation.
“Before any of the legalities, we want the American people to ask themselves whether they would respond to a subpoena asking them to testify about an insurrectionary attack against the U.S. government,” said panel member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “ … What kind of American president sends other people into battle to storm the Capitol to ‘stop the steal,’ and then refuses even to tell the country what he knows about the events. What kind of snowflake are we dealing with?”
The Washington Post previously reported that Trump has told advisers that he’d potentially be willing to testify live before the committee but multiple advisers don’t expect him to. Some on his legal team privately believe that allowing their client to testify would be a mistake.
The subpoena, which includes a schedule outlining specific document requests, is the most detailed subpoena the committee has released to the public to date.
Cheney and Thompson lay out 19 categories of document requests, in which they are seeking Trump’s communications with Roger Stone, former Secret Service agent Anthony Ornato, attorneys John Eastman and Sidney Powell, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and over a dozen other officials, associates, and members of extremists groups — including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The committee has not issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department, but Cheney and Thompson make clear in their statement that they believe Trump’s actions to overturn the election results were unlawful.
“The evidence demonstrates that you knew this activity was illegal and unconstitutional, and also knew that your assertions of fraud were false,” Thompson and Cheney wrote. “But to be clear, even if you now claim that you actually believed your own false election claims, that is not a defense; your subjective belief could not render this conduct justified, excusable or legal.”
The committee notably also requested the “information sufficient to identify every telephone or other communications device” that Trump used from Nov. 3, 2020, to Jan. 20, 2021. It also specifies that the requests includes communications conducted on Signal — an encrypted phone messaging application — on any personal devices, or any communications conducted by any other means.
It’s unclear whether the committee will subpoena — or already has subpoenaed — the call data for Trump’s personal cellphone. It’s also not definitive that the former president used Signal during his time in office, and the committee hasn’t indicated that he was using the application. But many of the people around him were using Signal, according to records already obtained by the committee.
Committee investigators spent the days since the final hearing carefully crafting the subpoena and studying case law about subpoenas to current and former presidents. In their letter to Trump, Thompson and Cheney list a slate of former presidents who testified before Congress after leaving office.
“Former Presidents John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford each testified before Congress after they left office,” they write. “President Roosevelt explained during his congressional testimony, ‘an ex-President is merely a citizen of the United States, like any other citizen, and it is his plain duty to try to help this committee or respond to its invitation.’
“Even sitting Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Gerald Ford, also testified before Congress. Further, both former and sitting presidents including Presidents Nixon, Tyler, and Quincy Adams, have provided evidence in response to congressional subpoenas.”
The Jan. 6 insurrection
The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.
The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.
The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.
Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.