House Republicans are treading carefully in their initial reactions after the special committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol took the remarkable step of issuing subpoenas for their cooperation.

The GOP lawmakers have been defiant in their approach to the bipartisan investigation, labeling it an illegitimate partisan witch hunt in which they’ve refused to cooperate. But with the arrival of Thursday’s subpoenas, not even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would say he’d reject the entreaty outright. 

“I have not seen the subpoena. I guess they sent it to you guys before they sent it to me,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “My view on the committee has not changed. They’re not conducting a legitimate investigation.”

McCarthy repeatedly declined to answer whether he would comply with the subpoena.

The five House members who received subpoenas — McCarthy along with Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) — face a tricky situation in responding to the unprecedented subpoenas to members. 

Because they have dismissed the select committee as illegitimate, complying with it could give credence to its mission. But refusal to comply may subject the members to being held in contempt of Congress, and then referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution, following the same treatment for former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

So far, the GOP members are presenting the subpoenas as a political messaging tactic on the part of the committee, with several echoing McCarthy’s statement that they had not yet been directly presented with the subpoenas. Like the GOP leader, they are not revealing whether they plan to comply.

“The fact that they sent it to the press before they sent it to the members — it’s just proof it’s all about headlines. This whole thing’s a charade,” Perry told reporters.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, told reporters that he is “very hopeful” that the Republican lawmakers “will honor the subpoena” but offered no details on what will occur if they do not.

“We have shared with them a lot of the information the committee’s work has uncovered as to how their testimony would be important. I would hope that knowing that information is available, if they disagree with it, they need to come before the committee and say, ‘I disagree,’” Thompson said. “But if they choose not to then obviously the committee will look at next steps.”

The committee gave each of the members dates to sit for depositions at the end of May.

There is no historical precedent for a House select committee subpoenaing a member of the House, and Republicans warned that the development would only act to diminish relations between the parties at a time when partisan hostility is already the rule. 

“It’s very destructive. I don’t think this is the way we should be conducting ourselves. It comes across as nothing vindictive and desperate in many respects, because it appears — and I don’t mean this to just be a soundbite — but it appears that they know they’re gonna lose the House, and they’re determined to destroy it on the way out,” said Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

Thursday’s slate of subpoenas may not be the last time the committee issues an investigative demand. Asked about more member subpoenas in the future, Thompson told reporters “it could be and it could not be.”

“The ones that we issued today are the ones that we feel very comfortable with,” he added.

Asked about a potential subpoena for Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who was also asked to voluntarily testify before the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the Jan. 6 committee, told reporters, “I don’t think we’re ruling out future subpoenas.”

“But we’re moving forward with five that we thought had among the most pertinent information, but we’re not excluding the possibility of further subpoenas,” he added.

Thompson also told reporters that asking Republican senators to come before the committee is “still part of the discussion.”

The move to subpoena sitting lawmakers marks a drastic escalation in the committee’s investigation of the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of supporters of former President Trump stormed the building in a failed effort to overturn his election defeat. The subpoenas also raise the prospects that Republicans, who are expected to win control of the House in November’s midterms, will retaliate against Democrats with a wave of investigations and subpoenas of their own.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), whom McCarthy originally selected to be ranking member on the committee before Pelosi vetoed the decision, said that Pelosi is the one the committee should subpoena. 

Yet the members of the select committee dismissed the concerns about setting a hostile precedent, arguing that they’re merely following the investigation where it takes them, as they’ve been charged under the statute that created the panel. 

“The unprecedented nature of the attack, and of the fact that we have members who have information about an attack on our body and have been unwilling to come and talk to the committee is a very serious and grave situation,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

“This determination to issue these subpoenas was not a decision the committee made lightly,” she added. “But it is absolutely a necessary one.”

Tags Adam Schiff Andy Biggs Bennie Thompson Jan. 6 panel Jim Jordan Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mo Brooks Ronny Jackson Scott Perry Trump

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