Tuesday was another day and another round of subpoenas for former President Donald Trump’s associates. The 10 subpoenas from the House Jan. 6 committee came just about 24 hours after the committee announced six more potential witnesses had been ordered to provide testimony and documents.
While Monday’s batch was aimed at members of the Trump re-election campaign and others who ran the so-called war room out of the Willard Hotel ahead of Jan. 6, Tuesday’s subpoenas were tightly focused on the former employees of Trump’s White House. The committee is definitely picking up steam — and it looks like its members may have found a way around some of the largest roadblocks to their detective work.
Most of the interest and speculation around the subpoenas issued Tuesday are about the biggest names on the list: those of former White House anti-immigration policy chief Stephen Miller and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Miller's and McEnany's eventual responses (or non-responses) are actually less interesting than what we could hear from some of the others called to testify.
As senior White House staff members, the two were closely involved in Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election. Miller, in particular, told Fox News outright that Trump’s allies were gathering an “alternate” slate of electors whose votes should be counted on Jan. 6. Their testimony would obviously be extremely appealing to congressional investigators — but their inclusion feels almost rote.
Miller and McEnany are being called to appear before the committee because the seniority of their respective roles demands it, not necessarily because they seem likely to cooperate. Given the lack of cooperation we’ve seen from some of the others the committee has served, like former White House adviser Steve Bannon, don’t be surprised if Miller and McEnany risk being held in contempt of Congress, too.
That’s why their eventual responses (or non-responses) are actually less interesting than what we could hear from some of the others called to testify. They include Keith Kellogg, who served as former Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser. In “I Alone Can Fix It,” a book by Washington Post journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Kellogg appears as a voice of reason on Jan. 6:
Other White House officials also pleaded with Trump to condemn the violence unequivocally.
“You need to tweet something,” Kellogg told the president. “Nobody’s going to be watching TV out there, but they will be looking at their phones. You need to tweet something.”
He added: “Once mobs get moving, you can’t turn them off.”
Given how Kellogg comes off in that excerpt, I’d bet good money he provided that account to Leonnig and Rucker himself. Whether that’s the case or not, his testimony would open a valuable window into Trump’s actions the day of the insurrection.
Joining him on the list of people subpoenaed Tuesday are several of Trump’s aides: Nicholas Luna, a personal assistant; Molly Michael, the Oval Office operations coordinator; and Cassidy Hutchinson, a special assistant for legislative affairs. Luna, the committee explained in its press release, was reportedly with Trump the morning of the riot. Michael ferried alleged election fraud information to various recipients at Trump’s request, and Hutchinson was reportedly with Trump during and after the Jan. 6 rally.
The most curious subpoena in this batch, though, is the one aimed at someone who wasn’t on the White House staff: Kenneth Klukowski, who was a senior counsel to former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. A close second is Ben Williamson, a deputy assistant to Trump and senior adviser to former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
All of them had access to the exact same information as their bosses.
The fact that nobody reading this has likely heard any of these names before is what makes them so fascinating. None of them has the star power of Miller or McEnany. They’ll likely struggle to raise the kind of legal defense fund money that’s being raised in support of other Trumpworld denizens. And, crucially, all of them had access to the exact same information as their bosses.
That means that if Clark, who has so far defied his subpoena, continues in his refusal to talk, Klukowski could likely fill in any of the gaps in the committee’s information about Clark’s plans to have the Justice Department back Trump's lies. Meadows is reportedly cooperating to a degree, but Williamson could be used as a point of comparison for any fact-checking of his claims. And Trump’s aides were literally in charge of handling the conspiracy’s digital paper trail — and a federal judge recently denied Trump's attempt to block access to those documents.
It almost seems like the Jan. 6 committee’s strategy is the reverse of the one used in most investigations. Normally, the small fry are interviewed in hope of putting pressure on the bigger fish further up the chain. This time around, though, the first subpoenas went out to some of the highest-ranking officials who participated in Trump’s soft coup attempt. Now that the first witnesses summoned have proved reluctant, the committee is going down the chain to their subordinates.
The net effect, if it works, will be to provide a clear outline of what happened and when, even if the main players keep mum. The biggest risk is that, given their personal loyalty to Trump, even the low-ranking staffers refuse to divulge information, too. But while Miller and McEnany may prefer to take their chances with silence, I think we’ll find that not everyone is quite as willing to go to jail for Donald Trump’s lies.