In its investigation into last year’s attack on the US Capitol, a congressional panel will examine all possible enforcement mechanisms – including criminal contempt sanctions – for subpoenaed GOP members of congress who refuse to cooperate with the probe.
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Two former administration officials have already been held in criminal contempt by the select committee – former adviser Stephen Bannon and former chief of staff Mark Meadows – for ignoring the panel’s formal summons to testify.
The top members of the investigative panel said one day after the committee issued similar subpoenas to five Republican lawmakers, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), that lawmakers who serve on Capitol Hill would not receive any special protection because they are lawmakers.
“Members of Congress are citizens of the United States, so it would be the same options that are available to us generally,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md. ), a former constitutional law professor, said Friday when asked about possible repercussions of noncompliance.
Raskin left no doubt that criminal contempt was among the options that could be used as punishment, if any doubts existed. As a matter of fact, he said, sitting legislators may be subject to even more severe penalties than other recalcitrant witnesses because members of the House are also subject to the chamber’s rules for ethics.
“We have all of the options that would be available to us, or someone like Steve Bannon or Mark Meadows,” he said, “and then additional options because they’re members of Congress.”
The head of the select committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, stated that he’s holding out hope that the Republicans, who were subpoenaed, will change their minds and cooperate with the investigation. However, like Raskin, he said he did not rule out whatever enforcement tools the panel could use if they refused.
“There are options. Obviously, we could make a referral to Ethics,” Thompson said, referring to the House Ethics Committee. “We’ll discuss it. But look, all we’re saying is these are members of Congress who’ve taken an oath.”
In a joint announcement with Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming (R), the vice chair of the select committee, Thompson announced the subpoenas on Thursday evening, following weeks of internal debates over the wisdom of so aggressively targeting sitting members of Congress. It was a historically unprecedented step, one that signified an extraordinary step in the investigation into the Capitol attack of Jan 6., 2021, in which a violent mob stormed the building in an attempt to overthrow the election of President Biden.
Five Republican lawmakers have been targeted with subpoenaes: Reps. McCarthy, Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.). They are all close allies of former President Trump and fervently believe that Trump won the 2020 election. All of them also have unique insights into what Democrats and the January 6 committee believe, was an effort by the former White House to thwart Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory. All five of these subpoenaed and sitting Congressmen refuse to cooperate in the investigation voluntarily.
“There are some things that we found out that either need clarification on their part, or we’re left with … what our investigation has shown us,” Thompson said. “They are an integral part of that investigation, as far as I’m concerned.”
These Republican lawmakers have defended their refusal to participate by claiming Nancy Pelosi’s investigation is nothing but a political stunt, designed to damage Trump and the GOP as a whole.
“The border is in crisis, inflation is skyrocketing, crime is rampant, and Democrats are focused on fabricating their own facts to take down Republican leaders,” Biggs stateted after the subpoenas were issued.
Even though the Republican Republicans have been emphatic in their defiance, none of the five have said that they will refuse to comply with the subpoena. Many of the GOP lawmakers have said they simply haven’t seen it — a claim which was refuted by Thompson, who said he had signed each of them.
In addition to events on Jan. 6, the new subpoenas have sparked a fierce debate about the broader implications of targeting sitting lawmakers with congressional summonses.
Republicans have warned that if this happens, it will set a dangerous precedent, which will lead to a barrage of subpoenas from the majority party against the minority in the future. According to Democrats, the real threat lies in the subpoenaed lawmakers who choose to ignore the law and defy them.
“The basic principle of our rule of law is that everybody owes his or her truthful testimony to the government when a crime has been committed, or you know, when they’re subpoenaed,” Raskin said. “That’s not a complicated proposition.”
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Thompson also cautioned Republicans thinking about retaliating with subpoenas next year if they control the House after the midterms.
“The precedent ought to be for Republicans to honor the subpoena. If the Republicans choose not to, and then they take control of the House, then obviously, they don’t have many legs to stand on,” he said.
The committee is planning to hold eight public hearings next month, the first of which is scheduled for June 9, though Thompson has indicated that they may hold more hearings “if the committee decides that it’s necessary.”