WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee took the extraordinary action of subpoenaing former President Donald Trump on Thursday as it issued a stark warning in its final public hearing before the midterm election: The future of the nation’s democracy is at stake.
The panel's October hearing, just weeks ahead of the midterm election, focused on Trump’s state of mind on Jan. 6, 2021 as he egged on his supporters with false claims of election fraud, pushed to accompany them to the Capitol while lawmakers were counting the votes, and then stood by for hours as the mob violently breached the building.
The committee is set to shut down at the beginning of next year, and was making its final public arguments ahead of a report expected in December.
“We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion,” said Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel's vice chairwoman and one of two Republicans on the nine-member committee. “And every American is entitled to those answers. So we can act now to protect our republic.”
A SUBPOENA FOR TRUMP — BUT NOT PENCE
The subpoena for Trump is a major escalation in the probe. After signaling for months that they may leave the former president alone, the unanimous 9-0 vote “for relevant documents and testimony, under oath” was definitive.
The committee had long debated whether to seek testimony from or subpoena Trump or former Vice President Mike Pence. Neither has spoken directly to the committee. While Trump has been hostile to the probe both in court and in public, Pence's lawyers had engaged with the panel for several months with no clear resolution.
Pence could still be called or subpoenaed. But several of his closest aides have complied with the investigation, with several of them providing great detail about his movements and state of mind as he resisted Trump's pleas to object to the certification of electoral votes that day and try to overturn their defeat.
In contrast, the committee showed several clips of Trump allies refusing to answer questions before the panel.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, said the committee was “able to nail down every salient detail in pretty much every element of the offense" except for certain details about what Trump was doing and saying as the insurrection unfolded.
PELOSI AND SCHUMER, IN HIDING
New video aired by the panel showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacting emotionally to the news that her colleagues were donning gas masks in the House chamber as rioters neared. She quickly went to work trying to secure and reopen the Capitol.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer were seen in unidentified secure locations and talking to security officials. The footage included a conversation between Pelosi and Pence, who was also in a secure location, discussing their return to the session to finish certifying Biden’s victory.
The footage was filmed by Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, according to two people familiar with the video who requested anonymity to discuss it.
The two leaders are seen working to bring the National Guard to the Capitol amid an hourslong delay. At one point, Schumer said he was going to “call up the ’effing secretary of DOD,” referring to the Defense Department.
“We have some senators who are still in their hideaways,” Schumer told defense officials on the phone. “They need massive personnel now.”
'CONSIDER WHETHER WE CAN SURVIVE'
The lesson of the committee’s investigation is that institutions only hold when people of good faith protect them without regard to political cost, Cheney said during the hearing.
"Why would Americans assume that our Constitution and our institutions in our Republic are invulnerable to another attack? Why would we assume that those institutions will not falter next time?" Cheney asked.
The warnings come as Trump is still refusing to acknowledge that he lost his reelection to Joe Biden and is considering another run in 2024 — and as many Republicans who deny Biden’s win are running in the midterm elections at all levels of government. Many states have replaced election officials who resisted Trump’s pressure campaign.
“Any future president inclined to attempt what Donald Trump did in 2020 has now learned not to install people who could stand in the way,” said Cheney, who lost her own Republican primary this August. “Consider whether we can survive for another 246 years.”
SECRET SERVICE REVELATIONS
The committee has obtained more than 1.5 million pages of documents from the Secret Service in recent weeks. They revealed some of that information in the hearing, including an email from within the agency on Dec. 11, 2020, the day the Supreme Court rejected one of Trump's attempts to undermine the vote.
“Just fyi. POTUS is p—-d — breaking news —- Supreme Court denied his law suit. He is livid now,” one anonymous Secret Service email said.
Multiple emails showed that the agency had ample warnings of violence in the weeks and days ahead of the insurrection.
An alert received by the agency on Dec. 24 said multiple online users were targeting members of Congress and “instructing others to march into the chambers,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the panel.
California Rep. Pete Aguilar, another Democratic member, said the committee “will be recalling witnesses and conducting further investigative depositions” based on the Secret Service material. The agency has not turned over text messages it said were deleted.
Aguilar also warned that the committee is reviewing testimony regarding potential obstruction of some witnesses. The committee has said in the past that some witnesses were intimidated against speaking.
The committee showed prerecorded interviews with Cabinet members, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Attorney General William Barr and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, who said they believed that once the legal avenues had been exhausted, that should have been the end of Trump’s effort to remain in power.
Pompeo, who was interviewed by the panel since its last hearing in July, said in his videotaped testimony that he believed that once the Electoral College certified the vote, that was the end of the process for contesting the election. “We should all comply with the law at all times, to the best of our ability — every one of us,” Pompeo said.
Chao, who is married to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnel, said she decided to resign after the insurrection because it was “impossible for me to continue given my personal values and my philosophy."
At the same time, Trump continued to push the false claims of fraud to his millions of supporters.
“President Trump knew the truth. He heard what all his experts and senior staff was telling him,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the committee’s other Republican. “His intent was plain: ignore the rule of law and stay in power.”
Cheney addressed one of the committee’s remaining questions at the beginning of the meeting, saying the panel “may ultimately decide to make a series of criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.” At the end of the hearing, she mentioned the possibility again, saying it has “sufficient information to consider criminal referrals for multiple individuals.”
Members of the committee have long suggested they may suggest charges for Trump or others based on their own evidence. While such a referral would not force any action, it would place political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland as the department has pursued its own investigations surrounding Jan. 6. And the committee has yet to share any transcripts from its more than 1,000 interviews.
Still, “we recognize that our role is not to make decisions regarding prosecution,” Cheney said.