The former president has a fast-approaching deadline to try to prevent the National Archives from releasing data from his White House that could shed light on his efforts to undo the 2020 election results. And some of Trump’s closest associates have until Thursday to comply with a committee subpoena for their own administration.
For a panel that has worked briskly but methodically to collect data from federal agencies and collect voluntary testimony from friendly witnesses, 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 that we are not prepared for all these eventualities,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), one of the panel’s seven Democrats.
A stumbling block will come Thursday, as subpoenas for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Trump aide Dan Scavino and Trump world figures Steve Bannon and Kash Patel require them to provide documents to the panel. Commission chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Friday he was willing to issue “criminal referrals” to anyone who failed to meet deadlines.
None of the four have publicly stated how they will respond to the subpoena, and Patel issued a statement criticizing the commission’s process. Repeated questions to Trump representatives and members of his inner circle about how they plan to respond have gone unanswered.
But committee members expect these witnesses to not cooperate voluntarily – one of the reasons the panel has issued subpoenas without giving them the opportunity to voluntarily provide documents or testimony.
“The committee is committed to pursuing every imaginable goal,” said Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “There were literally thousands of people involved in these events. So we are confident that the truth will come out.”
One reason for their trust: Witnesses have begun to come forward to testify behind closed doors in transcribed interviews, a setup used by the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. Almost exactly two years ago, the impeachment panel – led by Rep. Adam Schiff, who sits on the Jan. 6 committee today — the blockade of Trump when it secured a voluntarily transcribed interview with veteran diplomat Kurt Volker. That led to a cascade of interviews with other State Department and Pentagon officials.
Members of the Jan. 6 committee are hoping for a similar snowball effect now that their first interviews have begun.
In addition, the panel, whose members meet daily in person or via Zoom, has maintained in recent days that it is willing to involve any unruly witnesses in court.
“We will do what the law allows us to do,” Thompson said, when asked how the panel would handle if Meadows and others rejected any collaboration.
The deadline for Trump to ask President Joe Biden to shield his data from the commission is expected to arrive by mid-week, though the exact timing has been shrouded in secrecy. Trump has insisted he would try to block the records from release, a move that could lead to a complex and unknown legal battle over the limits of claims of executive privilege by former presidents. The Biden White House has indicated that it will be favorable to the committee’s requests for documents, but has dropped a blanket promise to release anything Trump wants to withhold.
More of the outline of the commission’s investigation became clear Friday when Thompson noted that the panel has divided its work into “five teams.” A source familiar with the outage said those teams are pursuing various aspects of the Jan. 6 story. They include Trump and his allies’ campaign to pressure Pence to undo Biden’s electoral college victory and the mobilization of extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to descend on Washington for the January 6 event.
Other details have trickled out as investigations by commission investigators seeped into the public. For example, investigators have begun seeking testimony from the Jan. 6 rioters themselves, particularly those who have pleaded guilty and are preparing for sentencing. The panel relies on investigators who, in some cases, have recently left the Department of Justice and are now acting as committee advisors.
Across the street from the Federal District Courthouse, a figure of interest to the commission — pro-Trump activist Brandon Straka — is expected to plead guilty to offenses related to his actions on Jan. 6. The panel has asked the National Archives about Trump. administration records that list Straka, in addition to other White House allies who participated in Jan. 6 events.
A lawyer for Straka did not respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors say Straka helped lead an attack on the Capitol steps and encouraged other rioters to take an officer’s shield. But the evidence they presented suggested he stopped at the entrance to the Capitol and noted tear gas being fired against the crowd. It is not clear whether he entered the building. Straka appeared on paperwork by organizers of a pre-Jan. 6 event and was included in a list provided to the National Archives by the committee on 6 January.
Prosecutors have continued to close January 6 cases at a rapid pace. By the end of the day Friday, about 100 of the more than 600 defendants charged in the Capitol uprising had already agreed or planned to enter plea deals. The commission has asked for testimonies from some of the rioters who have already advocated an effort to obtain testimony as to their motivations for attending the January 6 events.
Josh Gerstein and Meridith McGraw reported.