WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Thursday issued a subpoena to five Republican members of Congress, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, who had refused to meet the panel voluntarily.
The commission’s leaders were reluctant to issue subpoenas to their co-legislators. That’s an extremely rare move for most congressional panels, although the House Ethics Committee, which is responsible for investigating allegations of member misconduct, is known to do so.
The panel said it demanded testimony from Mr. McCarthy, of California, who had a heated telephone conversation with President Donald J. Trump during the Capitol violence; Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry, who coordinated a plan to try to replace the acting attorney general after resisting Mr. Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud; Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, who was heavily involved in the campaign against the election results; Arizona Representative Andy Biggs, former leader of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus; and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who has said Mr Trump has continued to seek an illegal reinstatement to office for more than a year.
All five have turned down requests for voluntary interviews about their role in the run-up to the attack by supporters of the former president who believed his lie of widespread electoral fraud.
Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday that he had not yet seen the subpoena.
“My opinion of the commission has not changed,” he said. “They’re not conducting legitimate research. It seems like they just want to go after their political opponents.”
Perry called the investigation “a charade” and a “political witch-hunt” by the Democrats that “is about making headlines and distracting Americans from their abysmal track record.”
The subpoenas come as the commission is organizing a series of public hearings next month to release its findings. The eight hearings are scheduled for several weeks beginning on June 9, some during prime time in an effort to attract a large television audience.
“The select committee has been informed that several of our colleagues have information that is relevant to our investigation of the January 6 attack and the events leading up to it,” Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and committee chair, said in a statement. declaration. statement. “Before we hold our hearings next month, we wanted to give members the opportunity to voluntarily discuss these matters with the committee. Unfortunately, those who received subpoenas today have refused, and we are forced to take this step to ensure that the commission uncovers facts related to January 6.”
For weeks, House special panel members and investigators have privately agonized over how aggressively to pursue incumbent members of Congress, weighing their desire for information about lawmakers’ direct interactions with Mr. Trump against the potential legal difficulties and political challenges. consequences of this.
Behind closed doors, committee and staff members examined the law, parliamentary rules and previous precedents before deciding to proceed, people familiar with the investigation said.
In letters to lawmakers sent Thursday, Mr. Thompson wrote that their refusal to cooperate had left the panel “no choice” but to issue subpoenas.
Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and vice chair of the committee, said the decision was not taken lightly. “It is a reflection of how important and serious the investigation is and how serious the attack on the Capitol was,” she said.
Mr. McCarthy’s subpoena is particularly noteworthy because he will be lining up to speak if Republicans gain control of the House in November. If he refuses to obey, it could trigger a process that could lead to a Democrat-controlled House holding him in contempt for Congress as the midterm elections loom.
Congressional researchers have rarely been confronted with a situation that entails such a great commitment to their institution.
Mr McCarthy had long feared he would be subpoenaed in the investigation. For the past few months, he’s been talking to William A. Burck, a longtime Washington attorney, about how to fight a subpoena.
The committee wants to question Mr. McCarthy about his post-attack conversations about the president’s guilt in the attack and what needs to be done to address this. The committee also suggested that Mr Trump may have influenced Mr McCarthy’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation.
Mr McCarthy issued a damning statement in January condemning the commission as illegal and saying he would refuse to cooperate with the investigation. He has argued that the panel violated Republicans’ privacy through subpoenas for bank and phone records. Mr. McCarthy also denounced California Speaker Nancy Pelosi for rejecting two of his five choices to sit on the panel — including Mr. Jordan.
The commission informed Mr. Jordan by letter in December that its investigators wanted to question him about his statements in the run-up to the Capitol uprising. These include Mr. Jordan’s messages to Mr. Trump and his legal team, as well as others involved in scheduling Jan. 6 rallies and Congressional objections to certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
In the weeks following the 2020 election, Mr. Perry, a member of Congress since 2013 who has been close to Mr. Jordan, put together a dossier of voter fraud allegations and coordinated a plan to try to replace the acting attorney general. , who opposed Mr Jordan. Trump’s attempts to reverse the election, with a more accommodating official. Mr. Perry also supported the idea of encouraging Mr. Trump’s supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
In a letter to Mr. Biggs, the committee’s leaders wrote that they wanted to question him about evidence obtained from attempts by certain House Republicans to seek a presidential pardon after Jan. 6 in connection with Mr. 2020 undo. †
And the panel said it wanted to question Mr. Brooks about statements he made in March, alleging that in the months since the election, Mr. Trump had repeatedly asked him to illegally “revoke” the results, remove President Biden and to force a special election.
Maryland Democrat and committee member Jamie Raskin said the panel had conducted more than 1,000 interviews but needed the members of Congress so deeply involved in the former president’s plans.
“The precedent we want to set with our work is that people should not try to overthrow the electoral and political institutions of the United States,” he said.
The Constitution’s so-called speech or debate clause, intended to protect the independence of the legislature, says senators and representatives “will not be questioned anywhere else” about a speech or debate in either chamber. It has been interpreted broadly and includes all legislative measures, not just words. On the surface, however, that clause is limited to questioning them in “other” places, such as courtrooms.
There is also precedent for the House to subpoena its own members in a narrow context. The House Ethics Committee has the power, under the House rules, to subpoena members for testimony or documents, and members are required to comply.
The committee also requested an interview with Texas Representative Ronny Jackson, Mr. Trump’s former White House doctor, about why he was mentioned in encrypted messages from the Oath Keepers militia group, some members of which have been charged with criminal charges in connection with the attack. attack .
Jackson has also refused to cooperate voluntarily, but he was not among those who issued a subpoena on Thursday.
Ms. Pelosi declined to comment, except to say she respects the work of the committee. Maryland Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said he was not concerned that Republicans would try to retaliate by issuing subpoenas of their own in other investigations if they win the House.
“We should all be subjected to the truth-telling committee seeking information that is important to our country and our democracy,” Mr Hoyer said.
Michael S. Schmidt reporting contributed.