with Tobi Raji

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The investigations

Clarification: We have updated the article to reflect that the select committee will need to obtain additional authorization letters from the DOJ in order to have former Trump administration officials answer questions from Congress about efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election in its investigation. 

A SUBPOENA IN YOUR FUTURE?: While the House select committee examining the events of Jan. 6 opened its investigation on Tuesday, the Department of Justice issued a decision that it will not assert executive privilege on behalf of former Trump administration officials to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The authorization comes after much back and forth between the committees and the DOJ, according to a spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee, and might provide new insight into whether former president Trump used the DOJ to support his baseless claims about election fraud in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

  • “The Justice Department has notified former government officials that it has consulted with the White House counsel's office and that it 'would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege with respect to communications with former President Trump and his advisers and staff on matters related to the committee's proposed interviews,' according to a person who has read the letter from department official Bradley Weinsheimer,” NPR's Brian Naylor and Carrie Johnson report. 

The announcement potentially opens the door for the select committee: If the DOJ provides another authorization, the select committee can call on former Trump administration officials to provide testimony about their actions related to Jan. 6.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the select committee, and other committee designees have yet to specify who they plan to subpoena. But Thompson told us last week that the first round is expected to be issued in the last week of August or in the first week of September. 

While the DOJ's announcement opens the door for former Trump administration officials to be called, Democrats do not have a strong track record of enforcing those subpoenas. So far, Republicans have not signaled a change in their defiant approach when it comes to congressional subpoenas, portending protracted litigation where a witness may decline to testify outright, or isn't otherwise amenable to negotiating an agreement about the scope of his or her testimony. 

Lisa Kern Griffin, a professor of constitutional law at Duke University, outlined to Power Up some of the legal avenues available to Congress in the face of defiance but added that it's “uncommon to actually pursue those avenues.” 

  • Congress could ask the Justice Department to hold a witness in criminal contempt, which is “extremely unusual but a possibility,” said Griffin.
  • Congress can also “litigate on the basis of civil contempt,” meaning that lawyers in the House can file suit to “try and compel testimony from a recalcitrant witness,” Griffin told us. “This does mean delays," she added, pointing to the case of former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a witness in Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of the ex-president, who only reached an agreement to cooperate after a two year long court battle.
  • “The last possibility is the most uncommon…Congress's inherent contempt power,” Griffin told us.
  • Congress has not exercised its “arrest-and-detain authority” since since 1927, when Congress had Mally S. Daughterty, the brother of then-former U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty, detained and arrested. When Daughterty filed a habeas petition against his detention, the Supreme Court sided with Congress, holding that Congress has the power to compel witnesses and testimony “to obtain information in aid of the legislative function,” according to the Constitution Center's Scott Bamboy. 

 

Police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 testified before Congress on July 27 about their experiences. (Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

About the hearing: “A House select committee examining the events of Jan. 6 opened its investigation Tuesday with vivid, visceral testimony from four law enforcement officers who were among those attacked as they defended the U.S. Capitol from armed supporters of President Donald Trump, delivering an emotional portrait of the insurrection’s lasting toll more than six months later,” my colleagues Karoun Demirjian, Marianna Sotomayor and I report. 

  • "January 6th still isn’t over for me,” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told lawmakers, describing how protesters dressed in Trump campaign paraphernalia called him the n-word — and did the same to several of his Black colleagues. “Is this America?” he said.

“The select committee’s members believe the first-person accounts of such intensely traumatic experiences will resonate with the American public, cutting through the bitter political war in Congress over how the Capitol riot should be investigated — and who bears responsibility for it. Republican leaders have boycotted the investigation and sought to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the casualties as a way of deflecting scrutiny away from Trump, who was impeached and acquitted earlier this year on charges he incited the violent bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying electoral-college results and declaring Joe Biden the next president.” 

  • “The officers’ testimony Tuesday was interspersed with video showing rioters physically and verbally assaulting the police who stood in their way. As the images played, Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell, who has required surgery to repair the injuries he sustained during the incursion, wiped away tears.”
  • “To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on January 6th or the United States that they claim to represent,” he testified, adding, “Nothing in my experience in the Army or as a law enforcement officer prepared me for what we confronted.”
  • “It’s been estimated that 140 police officers were injured in the riot.”

Meanwhile, House Republicans were seemingly disinterested in the details of the attack prompted by their party’s president that featured calls to find and hang former vice president Mike Pence. And they dismissed the officers who expressed disgust at the attempt by many Republicans to downplay the severity of the attack. 

House Republicans began Tuesday morning by calling the hearing a “sham” and a “political charade.” After it concluded in the early afternoon, they provided myriad reasons for why they did not tune in to the harrowing testimony provided by four police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol that day against a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters, me and Marianna and John Wagner report. 

The loudest voices in the room: “I don’t know of anybody that’s tried to downplay it and other than, you know, their gross exaggeration that it’s the worst attack on democracy since the Civil War,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who has downplayed the severity of the attack.

  • Gohmert joined other Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, at a news conference outside the Justice Department on Tuesday where they attempted to call out what they claimed is unjust treatment of defendants detained after the attack at the U.S. Capitol. They accused the department of withholding information on detention conditions and treating the defendants unfairly.

At the White House

MASKS ARE BACK: “Vaccinated people may be able to spread the coronavirus and should resume wearing masks under certain circumstances, the nation’s top public health official said Tuesday in a gloomy acknowledgment that the mutated delta variant has reversed the promising trend lines of spring,” our colleagues Yasmeen Abutaleb, Joel Achenbach, Dan Diamond and Adam Taylor report. 

“Speaking to reporters in an afternoon news briefing, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed disappointment and dismay that the summer surge in cases, driven by the delta variant’s startling transmissibility and low vaccination rates in many areas, had forced her agency’s hand.” 

  • “It is not a welcome piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated,” Walensky acknowledged. “This new guidance weighs heavily on me.”

The data: “The agency advised that people who live in high-transmission communities wear masks in indoor public spaces, even if they’ve been vaccinated. It also recommended that vaccinated people with vulnerable household members, including young children and those who are immunocompromised, wear masks indoors in public spaces,” per Yasmeen, Joel, Dan and Adam. 

  • “Although the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, they do not form an impenetrable shield. New data suggests that people who are vaccinated and have breakthrough infections from the delta variant may have as much viral load as a person who is unvaccinated, which suggests they may be able to spread it to others, Walensky said. Such transmission did not happen in any significant way with earlier versions of the virus.” 

It's not just the White House: “Masks are again required for members of the House side of the U.S. Capitol amid a nationwide rise in coronavirus cases,” NPR's Jaclyn Diaz reports. 

  • “Under the reimplemented mandate, members, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, must wear a ‘well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask’ in House office buildings, during meetings, and while in the House Chamber. Under the order from Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress's attending physician, the new rule doesn't effect members of the Senate.”
  • The GOP response: “Make no mistake—The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted.

Happening Thursday: “President Biden will announce that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face repeated testing mandates, a dramatic escalation of the administration’s effort to combat the spread of the delta variant,” our Post colleagues Tyler Pager and Eli Rosenberg report.

  • “The new rules will closely align with policies recently put in place for government officials in California and New York City … The White House is not planning on firing government employees who aren’t vaccinated but will impose a number of restrictions on them as a way to encourage them to receive one of the vaccines that have received emergency-use authorization.”

However… “Justice Department lawyers have determined that federal law doesn’t prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring coronavirus vaccines, even if the vaccines have only been authorized for emergency use,” CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Jason Hoffman report.

  • And at the White House, officials “told employees in a staff-wide email that it was requiring everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks while on the premises, effective immediately,” per Pager and Rosenberg.

The policies

THE LATEST ON INFRASTRUCTURE: “Lawmakers expressed renewed optimism Tuesday that they were close to reaching a deal on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package as they worked through a series of 11th-hour holdups,” the Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren report.

  • “Members of the bipartisan group said they were still working through details of a roughly $65 billion plan for broadband spending, with talks focused on how to distribute funds to states and how to design a program aimed at making broadband service more affordable for low-income consumers.”
  • But “time is running short for negotiators ahead of a scheduled August recess,” the New York Times’ Emily Cochrane and Jonathan Weisman report. “Democratic leaders are determined to vote before the break not only on the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, but also on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that will unlock the party’s ability to use the fast-track reconciliation process and advance the remainder of Biden’s economic agenda.”

And “many senators are losing patience with the bipartisan infrastructure talks, and their grievances underscore the difficulties negotiators have in sealing a final product,” Politico’s Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett report.

  • Case in point: “In a fiery tirade to fellow Democrats during a closed-door meeting Tuesday, House Transportation Committee Chair Peter A. DeFazio called the bill ‘crap,’” per Politico’s Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle
  • “I could give a damn about the White House. We’re an independent branch of government,” DeFazio told Ferris and Caygle. “They cut this deal. I didn’t sign off on it.”
  • “But while DeFazio has been the most vocal against the emerging Senate deal, he’s not alone in the House as senators try to close out the massive bill. Democrats across the caucus have begun working through the stages of grief — anger, denial, eventual acceptance — as they brace for a vote in which they might need to simply rubber-stamp a sprawling Senate measure while their own infrastructure legislation gathers dust across the Capitol.”

In the agencies

HOT INFLATION SUMMER: “With inflation uncomfortably high and the covid-19 delta variant raising economic concerns, a divided Federal Reserve will meet to discuss when and how it should dial back its ultra-low-interest rate policies,” AP News’ Christopher Rugaber reports.

  • “Federal Reserve officials are likely to express concerns about the rapidly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus,” per CNBC’s Patti Domm. “The market has been waiting to hear from the Fed on its plans to pare back its bond buying, the first major step in easing policy.”
  • “This week’s meeting occurs against the backdrop of a risky policy bet by Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell,” Rugaber writes. “Powell is gambling that the central bank can engineer an exceedingly delicate task: To keep the Fed’s short-term benchmark rate pegged near zero, where it has been since March 2020, until the job market has fully healed, without fueling a sustained bout of high inflation.”
  • “The main concern is that the Fed will end up responding too late and too aggressively to high inflation by quickly jacking up interest rates and perhaps causing another recession.”

What we’re watching: Today “the Federal Reserve wraps up two days of policy meetings, and Powell will share his expectations for the economy, inflation and the labor market,” our colleague Rachel Siegel reports

  • “On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release the gross domestic product report, revealing how much the economy grew between April and June as Americans unleashed pent-up savings.”
  • “Then on Friday, June inflation data comes out from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

Viral

GOOD ENOUGH: “For one day, Simone Biles wasn’t the GOAT. Even though that’s how the announcer on NBC Sports described her as she prepared for the vault in the women’s gymnastics team finals Tuesday in Tokyo,” our colleague Candace Buckner writes.

  • “She wasn’t the infallible face of a greater movement, either, and that was evident when an audible gasp escaped the announcer’s mouth as Biles took one big step to catch her landing.”
  • “Whenever Biles pulls on her leotard, it’s as though she’s tightening a cape around her neck. She’s the hero tasked with saving a sullied sport, embodying some trite belief in American dominance — and also carrying a gender and an entire race.”
  • “That’s a heavy cape, and it chokes. But it’s one that exceptional Black women, and women of color, are told to wear. Because simply being great isn’t good enough.”

“They have to be superlative, as well as trailblazers. They have to be avatars of progress and change, and also fulfill a deeper societal responsibility as role models who break glass ceilings while breaking records.”

  • “But here’s the thing: It’s okay for Biles just to be amazing. Let her greatness stand on its own. We can be wowed and celebrate her without also expecting her to single-handedly revive gymnastics after a sexual abuse scandal, while also leading little Black girls to balance beams all over the nation.”