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Why Trump’s latest defiance of a Jan. 6 committee subpoena matters

Donald Trump’s subpoena gave him until Nov. 14 to deliver Jan. 6 testimony. That was yesterday. What happens now that he's blown off the deadline?


It’s been nearly a month since the Jan. 6 committee took the bold step of subpoenaing Donald Trump for testimony and documents, and the legal summons came with two deadlines. The former president, for example, was expected to turn over key materials — including any communications he had regarding extremist groups, and possible interactions he had with witnesses testifying before the Jan. 6 committee — by Nov. 4.

That was 11 days ago. The Republican missed the deadline, but he also received a brief extension.

The other deadline was just as notable, if not more so: Trump was supposed to testify under oath and answer investigators’ questions by Nov. 14, which was yesterday. To no one’s surprise, the former president did not sit down for a deposition. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the panel’s Democratic chair, and Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel’s Republican vice chair, said in a written statement:

“Former President Trump has failed to comply with the Select Committee’s subpoena requiring him to appear for a deposition today. Even though the former President initially suggested that he would testify before the committee, he has since filed a lawsuit asking the courts to protect him from giving testimony. His attorneys have made no attempt to negotiate an appearance of any sort, and his lawsuit parades out many of the same arguments that courts have rejected repeatedly over the last year. The truth is that Donald Trump, like several of his closest allies, is hiding from the Select Committee’s investigation and refusing to do what more than a thousand other witnesses have done.”

At this point, the House panel has limited options, though it could vote to hold the former president in contempt.

“That could be an option. And we’ll have to wait and see,” Thompson told The New York Times. He added, “The first thing we’ll do is see how we address the lawsuit. At some point after that, we’ll decide the path forward.”

The chairman’s reference to “the lawsuit” was about Trump’s litigation against the committee, filed on Friday, trying to invalidate the subpoenas he’s ignored.

A lawyer for the Republican issued a written statement after the case was filed, which included this gem: “Long held precedent and practice maintain that separation of powers prohibits Congress from compelling a President to testify before it.”

It’s a curious argument for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Trump is a private citizen, not a sitting president.

But putting aside the details, there’s a larger concern to consider: The entire investigation is simply running out of calendar. Thompson has said he expects the committee to wrap up its work by the end of next month, and all of these legal disputes, including a possible contempt vote, will take time that the select panel simply does not have.

At this point, it’s difficult to be optimistic that the committee will get any kind of cooperation from the former president before the investigation comes to an end.

Postscript: A reader asked me the other day whether the Jan. 6 panel could continue if Democrats were to somehow eke out a majority in the House. It’s probably best to lower expectations since a Republican majority in the chamber is a near-certainty at this point, but even if there were some kind of political miracle, the committee would not continue in its current form, and several of its members will no longer be elected lawmakers in the next Congress.