Jan. 6 panel wrestles with how to get testimony from lawmakers, Pence
The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is in the midst of a crucial debate over how aggressively to seek cooperation from key witnesses who resist testifying before the committee, including several members of Congress and the former Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence, along with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Reps. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, could help the committee paint a full picture of President Donald’s role Trump on the Capitol insurrection and the extent of his influence on efforts to disrupt the official certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
But the four lawmakers refused to cooperate, leading the Jan. 6 committee to consider whether to issue subpoenas to sitting members of Congress, a step taken rarely in the past.
The panel is split on whether to pursue such subpoenas, in part over concerns that a protracted legal fight will delay the committee’s goal of releasing a report before the November midterms, according to people familiar with the matter. debate who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.
Some committee members, including Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., reported aggressive posturing while others, including Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., issued notes of skepticism about the possibility to enforce such assignments.
At the same time, the panel has entered into preliminary discussions with Pence about how to get his account of events, including the sustained pressure he has received from Trump and other Republicans to block certification of the election victory. of Biden.
There has been little public discussion about the possibility of calling Trump as a witness or traveling to secure his account of events, but “nothing has been ruled out,” a committee staffer said.
For Pence, the committee’s goal would be to get the former vice president to answer questions under oath, ideally in public. Options for obtaining his cooperation were discussed in preliminary conversations between the committee’s chief counsel, Tim Heaphy, and Pence’s attorney, Richard Cullen, who was just appointed adviser to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R But Pence doesn’t want to appear in front of the committee, his insiders say. “I don’t see any situation where he does that,” a senior adviser said.
The two attorneys, who are friends and former legal partners, have informally discussed the possibility of Pence cooperating and how it might happen. Heaphy expressed the committee’s desire for Pence to answer questions in a taped interview, but the former vice president made it clear from the start that he neither wanted nor planned to testify, according to people familiar with the conversations. .
Some of Pence’s advisers believe the framework is under the vice president’s office, and Pence has come to believe that the committee has become overtly partisan. Answering questions under oath could also be politically damaging to Pence as he considers a potential 2024 presidential bid and seeks support from Trump voters.
For several weeks, Pence advisers said their opinion of the committee had deteriorated as the panel appeared to act in a more partisan manner, stressing the value of making criminal referrals and making comments they say were pressuring Pence.
Members spoke optimistically about Pence’s cooperation. Thompson said last week during an interview with NPR that members expected this month to ask Pence to appear voluntarily before the committee. He later backtracked on his comment, telling reporters on Monday that he never said an official request was coming.
“[Pence], like many other people, we think might have something to give the committee, but we haven’t made the decision to formally invite him to come here,” Thompson said.
Three weeks ago, former Pence chief of staff Marc Short publicly expressed his lack of confidence in the panel’s impartiality.
“I also can’t be very confident that this committee is going to provide some kind of unbiased analysis,” Short told Fox News, a sentiment shared by others in Pence’s orbit.
Nonetheless, Pence and his team continued to engage. Two of Pence’s top aides, including Short, are expected to appear before the committee in the coming weeks. Short’s attorney, Emmet Flood, was involved in negotiations with the committee over the line of questioning for him, according to people familiar with the discussion.
As for Pence, his attorney has suggested alternatives to questioning under oath, such as written answers to questions or an offer from the former vice president’s legal team.
The committee wants information on a wide range of topics, including the pressure put on Pence by Trump and his allies to block election certification on Jan. 6 and staff movements at the Justice Department, according to a person familiar with the demands of the committee. The panel is also interested in any conversations that may have taken place regarding pressure for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, declare Trump unfit for office and assume the powers and responsibilities of acting president, the person said.
The committee is also expected to interview Greg Jacob, Pence’s former attorney, next month. Last fall, the committee interviewed J. Michael Luttig, a former federal judge who advised Pence’s legal team in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 vote.
In a related move, Cheney reached out to longtime friend, former Vice President Dan Quayle, who spoke with Pence before Jan. 6, according to people familiar with the conversation. In their private chat, Quayle confirmed that he had informed Pence that he had “no choice” but to comply with the parliamentarian’s instructions and resist suggestions for election intervention. The conversation between Pence and Quayle was first recorded in the book “Peril”, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
During an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Quayle acknowledged speaking to Cheney but declined to discuss the substance of the conversation. Other than Cheney, Quayle said he had “no contact” with the select committee or its staff.
“I didn’t notice any hesitation on his part,” Quayle said of his conversation with Pence. “I interpreted his questions as seeking confirmation that what he was going to do was right and that he had no flexibility. That’s how I read it. Given the pressure he was under, I thought it was completely normal, very clever of him to call me.
The committee remains undecided on whether it will ultimately subpoena the House GOP lawmakers who rejected its pleas for voluntary cooperation. Although Thompson has previously said the committee would not hesitate to issue subpoenas, he has expressed reservations about their effective enforcement with GOP lawmakers.
“If we subpoena them and they choose not to come, I don’t know of any real vehicle that we can force them to comply with,” Thompson told ABC News last month.
Investigators have been working to identify precedents for subpoenas of serving members, according to two committee sources. One example they focused on is the House Ethics Committee‘s two-year investigation into the personal finances of Rep. Charles Rangel, DN.Y. Rangel, who was ultimately found guilty of 11 ethics charges, was subpoenaed by the investigating subcommittee after refusing repeated requests for a forensic accountant’s report and other documents.
Rob Walker, former chief counsel and staff director of the Senate and House ethics committees and former federal prosecutor, said that while he believes the committee has the power to subpoena members, there is a “colorful argument that when the Chamber undertakes the activity of reviewing the conduct of its own members, they should follow the process in place, which is the ethics process.
Although the committee has an investigative — not a disciplinary — mission, subpoenaed members might have a different perspective, Walker said.
“They could argue that the investigation could have negative consequences for them, whether politically or otherwise, and therefore it amounts to a quasi-disciplinary framework,” he said. “If that’s the case, they might have an argument that the House has procedures in place within the ethics committee to compel process and cooperation.”
Some lawmakers on the committee have taken a more aggressive stance. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told CNN that “nothing prevents the committee from taking” the step of subpoenaing lawmakers and dismissed the idea that sitting lawmakers are shielded from abuse. investigation by the Constitution, which states that “in respect of any Speech or Debate in either House,” Congressional legislators “shall not be questioned in any other place.”
It is feared, however, that any litigation could delay the work of the committee by several months. But Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the Supreme Court could speed up the process if it grants expedited review, as it did in a recent case involving coronavirus vaccine warrants.
During an interview on MSNBC Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, reiterated that the committee is still evaluating next steps, but suggested “other options than the criminal contempt route.”
“We have some remedies, potentially, with McCarthy, with Perry, with Jordan, with other members of the House that we don’t have with a Steve Bannon, for example, or Mark Meadows,” Schiff said, referring to a former political adviser to Trump. and a former Trump chief of staff who were subpoenaed. “It’s because the House can control its own members, can discipline its own members.”
Alice Crites of The Washington Post contributed to this report.