The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol formally subpoenaed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers on Thursday in a significant escalation ahead of the panel’s public hearings slated to begin next month.
The panel is demanding testimony from Mr. McCarthy of California, and Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama. The committee says they were in contact with the White House before, during and after the attack and “were involved in the planning and coordination of certain activities on and before January 6th.”
The subpoenas follow the committee’s requests that the five lawmakers appear voluntarily before the panel. Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said the requests were rebuked.
“Before we hold our hearings next month, we wished to provide members the opportunity to discuss these matters with the committee voluntarily,” Mr. Thompson said. “Regrettably, the individuals receiving subpoenas today have refused and we’re forced to take this step to help ensure the committee uncovers facts concerning January 6th.”
In rejecting the invitation to appear before the panel, Mr. McCarthy said the Democratic-run committee was engaged in a partisan “abuse of power” and that he wouldn’t lend legitimacy to the partisan probe.
“My view has not changed,” Mr. McCarthy said. “They’re not conducting a legitimate investigation. It seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents.”
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In seeking Mr. McCarthy’s voluntary cooperation in January, the committee cited the minority leader’s public statements indicating that he was in communication with President Trump and the White House before, during and after the riot.
Mr. Thompson also referenced notes recorded at a House Republican Conference meeting days after the Capitol attack in which Mr. McCarthy described his conversation with Mr. Trump. The New York Times has released partial recordings of the meeting.
The committee also sought further information about Mr. McCarthy’s correspondence with Mr. Trump, White House legal staff and Mr. Jordan regarding Republicans’ objections to electoral votes for Joseph R. Biden.
The move to formally subpoena sitting lawmakers is sure to escalate tensions on Capitol Hill over the divisive committee as it plans to roll out its findings.
Republicans contend that the Democratic-led panel has weaponized the events of Jan. 6 and say the committee serves as a political tool to target conservatives.
Democrats insist the sole aim of the probe is to uncover the truth about what led to the pro-Trump Capitol riot to ensure a similar event never takes place again.
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The formal subpoenas of sitting lawmakers, including a party leader, which has little precedent, are also likely to face stiff legal opposition.
In a statement Thursday, the committee aimed to head off the anticipated legal pushback.
“While members of Congress typically testify voluntarily before committees when asked, in recent years the House Ethics Committee has issued a number of subpoenas to members of Congress for testimony or documents,” the committee said. “Historically, members have also been subpoenaed to provide information in other House investigations.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, rejected the notion that the subpoenas were an escalation. He said all lawmakers should be subject to providing testimony.
“We ought to all be subject to being asked to tell the truth before a committee that is seeking information that is important to our country and to our democracy,” he told reporters. “I do not understand this extraordinary reaction to pursuing a legal, appropriate process.”
The committee has interviewed nearly 1,000 people since beginning its probe last summer and has been known to play hardball with uncooperative witnesses.
The panel has voted to hold four Trump allies in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. The Department of Justice has pursued the charges against one of those witnesses — former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and member of the committee, said the panel will “decide on consequences” if the members fail to testify.
“I think there are a range of remedies, but I don’t want to go into specifics,” he said.
Mr. Schiff also said “it’s very possible” that the committee subpoenas additional members.
“We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done,” Mr. Thompson said.