The former president has a rapidly approaching deadline to try to prevent the national archives from releasing records from his White House that could shed light on his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. And some of Trump’s closest associates have until Thursday to act on a committee subpoena on their own records.
For a body that has worked swiftly but methodically to collect records from federal agencies and solicit voluntary testimony from Witness friends, Trump’s anticipated fight will likely be the first test of his legal and political strength.
“I think it would be a mistake to say we are not prepared for all of these eventualities,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), One of the panel’s seven Democrats.
“We’ll do what the law allows us,” said Thompson when asked how the panel would deal if Meadows and others refuse to cooperate. | Brendan Smialowski-Pool / Getty Images
A tripwire will come Thursday when subpoenas to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, longtime Trump adviser Dan Scavino and Trump world figures Steve Bannon and Kash Patel demand that they provide documents to the panel. Committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) Said Friday he was ready to issue “criminal reprimands” to anyone who breaks deadlines.
Neither of the four has publicly signaled how they will respond to the subpoena, and Patel has issued a statement criticizing the committee’s process. Repeated inquiries to representatives of Trump and members of his closest circle how they would react to this went unanswered.
But committee members expect these witnesses will not voluntarily cooperate – one of the reasons the panel issued subpoenas without giving them the opportunity to voluntarily provide documents or testimony.
“The committee is determined to pursue every possible ending,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “Literally thousands of people were involved in these events. So we are convinced that the truth will come to light. “
One reason for their confidence: Witnesses have begun to testify behind closed doors in transcribed interviews, a facility used by the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. Almost exactly two years ago, the impeachment committee – headed by Rep. Adam Schiff, who sits on the January 6th committee today – broke Trump’s blockade when it secured a voluntary transcribed interview with the experienced diplomat Kurt Volker. That led to a cascade of interviews with other State Department and Pentagon officials.
Members of the January 6th committee are hoping for a similar snowball effect after their initial interviews begin.
In addition, the panel, whose members meet daily either in person or through Zoom, has insisted for the past few days that it stands ready to hear recalcitrant witnesses in court.
“We’ll do what the law allows us,” said Thompson when asked how the panel would deal if Meadows and others refuse to cooperate.
The deadline for Trump to ask President Joe Biden to protect his records from the committee is expected to arrive mid-week, although the exact timing has been kept secret. Trump has insisted that he would try to block the release of the records, a move that could spark a complex and unexplored legal battle over the limits of former presidents’ claims to executive privilege. Biden’s White House has indicated that it will evaluate the committee’s requests for documents positively, but does not have a blanket promise to release anything Trump wants to withhold.
Further contours of the committee’s investigation became clear on Friday when Thompson found that the committee had divided its work into “five teams.” A source familiar with the breakdown said these teams are following various aspects of the Jan. 6 narrative. These include the campaign by Trump and his allies to pressure Pence to overthrow Biden’s victory in the electoral college, and mobilizing extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to come to Washington for the January 6 event.
Other details leaked out following inquiries from committee investigators. For example, investigators have begun seeking testimony from the January 6 rioters themselves, especially those pleading guilty and preparing to be convicted. The panel relies on investigators who, in some cases, recently left the Justice Department and are now serving as committee advisors.
Across the street from the federal district court, a person of interest to the committee – pro-Trump activist Brandon Straka – is expected to plead guilty on Jan. 6 of his acts-related offenses on Jan. 6. The panel asked the National Archives about Trump administrative files mentioning Straka along with other White House allies who attended January 6 events.
A Straka attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors say Straka helped lead an indictment on the Capitol steps and encouraged other rioters to take an officer’s shield. But the evidence they presented indicated that he stopped at the entrance to the Capitol and noticed that tear gas was being used against the mob. It is unclear whether he entered the building. Straka appeared on paperwork from organizers a pre-Jan. 6th event and was included in a list made available to the National Archives by the January 6th Committee.
Prosecutors continued to quickly close the cases on Jan. 6. By the end of the day on Friday, about 100 of the more than 600 accused of the Capitol Riot had already accepted or planned to give informed consent. The committee has asked some of the rioters who have spoken out for testimony in order to obtain testimony of their motivation for attending the January 6th events.
Josh Gerstein and Meridith McGraw contributed to the coverage.