WASHINGTON – In an extraordinary move, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol formally subpoenaed Donald Trump on Friday, kicking off a legal battle with the former president who has denounced the committee’s investigation as political.
In a letter to Trump, the committee leaders said they have “assembled overwhelming evidence” he orchestrated an effort to overturn the 2020 election even though he knew he had lost, thereby setting the stage for the violent insurrection against the government.
“You were at the center of the first and only effort by any U.S. 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,” said the letter signed by the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Trump, who continues to make false allegations about voter fraud, has not said whether he would honor the subpoena. David Warrington, a Trump lawyer, said his team would review and analyze the subpoena and “respond as appropriate to this unprecedented action.”
“We understand that, once again, flouting norms and appropriate and customary process, the committee has publicly released a copy of its subpoena,” Warrington said.
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The subpoena ordered Trump to produce an array of documents by Nov. 4 and “to appear for deposition testimony beginning on or about November 14.” The committee offered him the opportunity to testify by video conference.
The requests included records of phone calls, texts or Signal communications placed or received by Trump between the 2020 election and the riot. Among those targeted in the communications are members of Congress and advisers, including political adviser Roger Stone and attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The letter, which comes a little more than a week after the panel voted to take the action, listed a number of allegations, including that the former president “maliciously” disseminated false allegations of voter fraud to raise money and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump also tried to “corrupt the Department of Justice,” the letter read.
The subpoena requested:
- Documents sent or received through Signal or other means since Sept. 1, 2020, with members of the far-right militia groups Oath Keepers or Proud Boys. The request comes as five members of the Oath Keepers are on trial, charged with seditious conspiracy.
- Documents and communications dealing with Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump urged to reject electors from key states Biden won. Pence refused, but lawmakers and Cabinet members discussed the possibility of removing Trump from office so Pence could succeed him.
- Documents and communications with the Justice Department, where then-Attorney General Bill Barr and acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen each told Trump repeatedly that he had lost the election. Barr testified he refused to seize ballot boxes from contested states, as Trump demanded.
- Documents and communications encouraging people to travel to Washington.
- Pictures and video recordings taken on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump held a rally near the White House.
In particular, the committee seeks Trump communications with political operative Stone, former strategist Steve Bannon, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and personal lawyers John Eastman, Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro, Boris Epshteyn, Christina Bobb, Cleta Mitchell and Patrick Byrne.
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Trump sought to install Clark as acting attorney general to fight 2020 election results. Eastman and Chesebro developed the strategy to recruit alternate slates of electors in states Biden won.
Giuliani, Ellis and Powell each worked to overturn the election results. Mitchell participated in the Trump call to Georgia election officials, urging them to “find” him enough votes to beat Biden in that state.
Bobb represented Trump in the search for government documents at Mar-a-Lago. She signed a declaration in June stating Trump had turned over all classified documents in his possession, but FBI agents seized more than 100 more during an August search.
Denver Riggleman, a former military intelligence officer and former committee staffer, told USA TODAY that the panel would be especially interested in any potential use of the encrypted Signal messaging app by Trump because of its use by other key participants in the alleged plot to overturn the election results, including former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
“It’s sort of a shot in the dark by the committee,” said Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and author of a new book on the committee’s investigation and his role in it. “I don’t have any specific knowledge of (Trump) using it, but of course people around him were using it, including Meadows, Perry and other people who went dark in their official comms,” military and intelligence community slang for communications.
But Riggleman said Signal messages are easily deleted and even auto-erased, which makes it hard for investigators to obtain them even with a warrant.
“Someone would have to be stupid enough to intentionally keep them or not delete them, even after knowing of investigators’ interest in them,” he said.
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The committee is racing the clock with the Trump subpoena because lawmakers aim to produce a report before the end of the year. But Trump refused to testify during the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference in the 2016 election, and many legal analysts predicted a rerun in the Jan. 6 probe.
“I just don’t think he will want to commit perjury and enhance the DOJ case,” said Andrew Weissmann, a federal prosecutor involved in the Russia investigation. “He talked a big game re the Mueller investigation and and then backed out. Same here.”
Bradley Moss, a national security attorney, said there’s “not a chance” Trump would testify because no defense lawyer would allow it.
“He’s a human perjury machine,” Moss said.