Lawmakers probing the 2021 attack on the US Capitol subpoenaed former president Donald Trump Friday, October 21, to testify on his involvement in the violence, in a major escalation of its sprawling inquiry.
The summons came after the House panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans voted unanimously last week to compel Mr. Trump’s appearance before investigators.
It requires Mr. Trump to produce documents to the committee by November 4 and to appear for a deposition beginning on or around November 14 – the Monday after the crucial November 8 midterm elections.
“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 multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transition of power,” the committee told the 76-year-old Republican in a letter.
Mr. Trump, who urged his supporters in a fiery speech near the White House to “fight like hell,” was impeached for inciting the mob to storm Congress to halt the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden on January 6, 2021.
The letter accused Mr. Trump of bidding to overturn the election despite knowing claims of fraud had been overwhelmingly rejected by more than 60 courts and refuted by his campaign staff and senior advisors.
“In short, you were at the center of the first and only effort by any US president to overturn an election and obstruct the peaceful transition of power, ultimately culminating in a bloody attack on our own Capitol and on the Congress itself,” it added.
Subpoenas from the panel have proved difficult to enforce, with former White House aide Steve Bannon the only target convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply. Mr. Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison on Friday, although he remains out on bail pending an appeal.
Mr. Trump is notorious for his ability to run down the clock on congressional investigations and legal action, and it remains highly unlikely that he would agree to give evidence.
The subpoena expires in any case with the new congressional term in January. The House of Representatives is expected to be flipped in November’s elections to the Republicans, who plan immediately to end the investigation.
But the move marks an aggressive escalation of the probe, which has issued more than 100 subpoenas and interviewed more than 1,000 people since its launch in 2021. While no sitting president has ever been forced to testify before Congress, lawmakers have summoned former presidents to discuss their conduct in office.
There was no immediate response from Mr. Trump, who would have to testify under oath and could be charged with perjury were he to lie. Mr. Trump lashed out at last week’s vote, dismissing the summons as a political stunt. He also released a 14-page complaint that didn’t get into whether he would testify.
If he refuses to comply, the full House can hold him in criminal contempt in a vote recommending him for prosecution, as it did with Mr. Bannon.
‘Clear and present’ danger
The panel unveiled reams of evidence across eight hearings in the summer on the former president’s involvement in a labyrinthine series of connected schemes to overturn the 2020 election.
Witness testimony provided stunning examples of Mr. Trump and his allies pressuring election officials and trying to get lawfully-cast votes nullified in swing states, and of Mr. Trump’s inertia amid the mob uprising.
The committee also pressed its position that Mr. Trump – who continues to be a wellspring of disinformation about the 2020 presidential election – remains a “clear and present” threat to democracy.
Lawmakers plan to release a final report by the end of the year.
The committee has not announced whether it will make direct criminal referrals over the Capitol attack, although the move would amount to little more than a gesture as the Justice Department is already investigating.
Mr. Trump has already retained the services of the Dhillon Law Group, which is representing several witnesses who have spoken to investigators, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn.