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Why Republicans haven’t vowed to defy the Jan. 6 subpoenas (yet)

Blowing off an offer to voluntarily testify is a political problem; ignoring a legally binding subpoena opens the door to a legal problem.


There can be no doubt that the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack escalated matters yesterday in a bold and historically significant way. There’s no historical precedent for a select committee subpoenaing sitting members of Congress, but the bipartisan panel did exactly that yesterday afternoon.

This has generated a variety of compelling questions, not the least of which was the most obvious: Will the subpoenaed House Republicans comply or not?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the five GOP members to receive a subpoena yesterday, told reporters soon after the news broke, “Look, my view on the committee has not changed. They’re not conducting a legitimate investigation. It seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents.”

We already know that both of these points are wrong. Following a series of federal court rulings, the legitimacy of the committee and its investigation is not in doubt. As for the idea that the panel is simply targeting political opponents, it’s important to emphasize that each of the subpoenaed members have unique and highly relevant perspectives.

It’s not as if congressional investigators simply chose every member of the Republican leadership, or targeted random far-right members. These five were chosen for entirely substantive reasons.

But in an unexpected twist, McCarthy, while complaining, didn’t come right out and say he’d refuse to comply with the subpoena. In fact, none of the subpoenaed members — a group that includes Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona — officially declared that they would blow off the summons.

It’s entirely possible that they’ll announce their intentions in a more formal way today, but for now, it’s worth considering why they paused. A Washington Post report noted:

Subpoenas are legally binding requests to testify; violating them can carry a fine or jail time. Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon is going to trial this summer for ignoring a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee. Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows could face charges, too, for ignoring his.

Exactly. Blowing off an offer to voluntarily testify is a political problem; ignoring a legally binding subpoena opens the door to a legal problem. When they were invited to answer questions without a subpoena, they wasted no time in saying no. When they were handed a subpoena, they ... paused.

If any, or all, of these five Republicans refuse to comply, the House could — and likely would — hold them in contempt and refer them to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

Sure, they might very well take their chances, especially with the midterm elections looming, but it helps explain why these GOP lawmakers hesitated yesterday.

As for the idea that Republicans will start issuing subpoenas of their own against Democratic members once there’s a GOP majority again, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters yesterday, “If they want to subpoena me at some point in time in the future, I’ll go in there and tell the truth.... Simply agree to voluntarily talk to the committee and tell the truth. That’s what they’re after. The truth.”

For now, the truth about Jan. 6 is something these Republicans appear eager to keep hidden.