On January 6, the panel subpoenas 5 Republicans, including McCarthy

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Thursday issued subpoenas to five Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, a significant escalation as it delves into the role played by Republicans in attempts to overthrow the 2020 election.

The panel’s decision was an extraordinary milestone in the annals of congressional investigations — a committee targeting sitting lawmakers, including a party leader, who refused to cooperate with a major investigation into the biggest attack on the Capitol since centuries.

This reflected the belief among investigators that a group of Republican members of Congress loyal to former President Donald J. Trump had played a crucial role in the events leading up to the assault on their own institution, and may have be hidden what they knew about Mr. Trump. intentions and actions before, during and after the attack.

Mr McCarthy, the Californian who is expected to be president if his party wins a House majority in November, had a heated phone call with Mr Trump during the riot, during which he implored the president to call off the mob invading the Capitol. in his name. When Mr. Trump refused, according to Rep. Jaime Herrera Buetler, a Washington Republican who said Mr. McCarthy told him about the exchange, Mr. Trump sided with the rioters, saying, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.

Mr. McCarthy also privately told his fellow Republican leaders a few days later that Mr. Trump had acknowledged in another phone call that he bore “some responsibility” for the attack.

The panel also issued subpoenas for other Republicans it said played central roles in the former president’s plan to use Congress to help him nullify the 2020 election. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania has coordinated a plan to try to replace the acting attorney general after he resisted Mr Trump’s false allegations of widespread voter fraud. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Mr Trump’s most vocal defenders, has been deeply involved in efforts to invalidate the election results.

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama was a leader in the Republican effort to formally challenge the counting of the battleground states’ electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, and said Mr. Trump lobbied him at the months that followed to help him reintegrate. The Presidency. The committee also summoned Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, the former ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus leader who tried to persuade state lawmakers to join Mr. Trump’s efforts to void the 2020 election.

All five declined requests for voluntary interviews about their role in planning the attack by the former president’s supporters who believed his lie of widespread voter fraud, and most continued to disparage the committee after the subpoenas are issued.

Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday that he had not yet seen the subpoena.

“My view of the committee hasn’t changed,” he said. “They are not conducting a legitimate investigation. Looks like they just want to go after their political opponents.

Mr Perry called the investigation a “charade” and “political witch hunt” by the Democrats that “consists of fabricating headlines and distracting Americans from their abysmal record of sinking America in the ground”.

The subpoenas come as the committee prepares for a series of public hearings next month to reveal its findings. The eight hearings are to take place over several weeks starting June 9, some in prime time in a bid to attract large TV audiences.

“The select committee has learned that several of our colleagues have information relevant to our investigation into the January 6 attack and the events leading up to it,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chair of the committee, in a press release. statement. “Before we hold our hearings next month, we wanted to provide members with the opportunity to voluntarily discuss these issues with the committee. Unfortunately, the people receiving subpoenas today have refused, and we are compelled to take this step to help ensure that the committee finds out the facts about January 6.

Committee leaders had been reluctant to issue subpoenas to fellow lawmakers. This is a rare step for a congressional panel, other than the House Ethics Committee, which is tasked with investigating allegations of member misconduct.

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.

Behind closed doors, committee members and staff researched the law, parliamentary rules and precedents before deciding whether to proceed, people familiar with the investigation said.

In letters to lawmakers sent Thursday, Mr. Thompson wrote that their refusal to cooperate left the panel with “no choice” but to issue subpoenas.

Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and vice chair of the committee, said the decision was not made lightly. “It reflects how important and serious the investigation is, and how serious the attack on the Capitol was,” she said.

Mr McCarthy’s subpoena is particularly notable given his position at the top of his party. If he refuses to comply, it could trigger a process that could lead to a Democratic-controlled House holding him in defiance of Congress as the midterm elections loom.

The committee has so far recommended four charges of criminal contempt of Congress against witnesses who refused to cooperate. This charge is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Panel members declined to comment on Thursday whether they would recommend an indictment against incumbent Republican lawmakers if they refused to comply.

Mr McCarthy has long feared being subpoenaed in the investigation. In recent months, he has had discussions with William A. Burck, a longtime Washington attorney, about how to fight a subpoena.

Congressional Republicans have been deeply implicated in several aspects of the plans to keep Mr. Trump in power: they have joined in baseless lawsuits, spread the lie of widespread voter fraud and opposed January 6 to the certification of President Biden’s victory in several states.

The committee wants to ask Mr. McCarthy about conversations he had after the attack about the president’s culpability in the assault and what should be done about it. The committee also suggested that Mr. Trump may have influenced Mr. McCarthy’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

Mr McCarthy issued a searing statement in January condemning the committee as illegitimate and saying he would not cooperate with its investigation. He argued that the panel was violating the privacy of Republicans through subpoenas for bank and phone records. Mr. McCarthy also hit out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California for rejecting two of his five choices to sit on the panel, one of which was Mr. Jordan, and boycotting the inquiry.

Ms Pelosi added two Republicans of her choice – Ms Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both vocal critics of Mr Trump – to the panel.

The committee informed Mr. Jordan by letter in December that its investigators wanted to question him about his communications in the run-up to the Capitol riot. These include Mr. Jordan’s messages with Mr. Trump and his legal team as well as others involved in planning rallies on Jan. 6 and objections from Congress to certifying Mr. Biden’s victory.

In the weeks following the 2020 election, Mr. Perry, a congressman since 2013 and close to Mr. Jordan, built a dossier of voter fraud allegations and coordinated a plan to try to replace the acting attorney general. , who was resisting Mr. Trump’s attempts to nullify the election, with a more docile official. Mr. Perry also endorsed the idea of ​​encouraging Mr. Trump’s supporters to march on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

In a letter to Mr. Biggs, committee leaders wrote they wanted to ask him about evidence they had obtained about efforts by some House Republicans to seek a presidential pardon after January 6 as part of of Mr. Trump’s efforts to cancel the 2020 election.

And the panel said it wanted to ask Mr Brooks about statements he made in March claiming Mr Trump repeatedly asked him in the months after the election to illegally ‘cancel’ the results, to impeach Mr. Biden and to force a special election so that Mr. Trump could return to the presidency.

The panel conducted more than 1,000 witness interviews but needed to hear from members of Congress implicated in the president’s plans, said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and committee member, who called the “big step” subpoenas for the investigation.

“What worries me the most is that if the Republicans ever come near the gavel, they’ll overturn the next election if Trump loses again,” Schiff said, adding that more subpoenas for members of Congress were “possible”.

Republicans could argue that their official actions — like opposing Mr. Biden’s victory on the House floor on Jan. 6 — are protected by the Constitution’s so-called speech or debate clause, intended to preserve the independence of the legislative branch.

The clause states that senators and representatives “shall not be questioned anywhere else” on any speech or debate in either chamber. It has been interpreted broadly to cover all legislative actions, not just words. At first glance, however, this clause is limited to questioning them in “other” places, such as courtrooms.

The committee also requested an interview with Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, Mr Trump’s former White House physician, about why he was mentioned in cryptic messages from the Oath Keepers militia group, some of which members have been criminally charged in connection with the attack. .

Mr. Jackson also voluntarily refused to cooperate, but he was not among those who received a subpoena on Thursday.

Ms Pelosi declined to comment on the action. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat, said he’s not worried about whether Republicans will seek revenge by issuing their own subpoenas to Democratic lawmakers if they won the House.

“All of us should be subject to a request to tell the truth before a committee that seeks information important to our country and our democracy,” Hoyer said.

Michael S. Schmidt contributed report.

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