The January 6 committee formally issued a subpoena to Trump on Friday.
If Trump refuses to comply, he could be held in contempt of Congress and potentially prosecuted.
But Trump could drag out the process, possibly until the committee ends.
Former President Donald Trump could deploy a relatively straightforward legal tactic to avoid complying with the January 6 committee’s subpoena: delay.
After well over a year of its investigation into the Capitol attack, the House select committee announced on October 13 its unanimous decision to subpoena the former president for documents and testimony. The lawmakers said Trump is the only one who can provide key information related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.
The panel formally issued the subpoena to Trump on Friday with a letter requesting he turn over the documents by November 4 and sit for testimony on or around November 14. The letter alleged Trump oversaw efforts to overturn the election and promoted fraud claims that he knew were false.
Trump has dismissed the committee and continued to repeat false claims of voter fraud. He has not said whether or not he will comply with the subpoena, but his lawyer told The New York Times Friday they were reviewing it, and also criticized the committee for releasing it publicly.
Failing to cooperate with the subpoena could result in Trump being held in contempt of Congress and referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. However, if Republicans take back the House in November — as they appear likely to do — the committee itself could be over.
The January 6 committee was established in the summer of 2021 after Senate Republicans tanked a bipartisan 9/11-style commission. When the select committee was formed, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy ended up appointing no one after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his five picks. Only two Republicans ended up on the committee, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both Trump critics who have been rejected by much of the GOP.
But the committee, which has interviewed more than 1,000 people over the course of its investigation, is set to dissolve along with the 117th Congress on January 3. Meanwhile, Republicans seem well-positioned to win the House in midterm elections.
Should Republicans win the House and take over in January, McCarthy is the most likely candidate to become House speaker. Regardless, Republicans are all but certain to discontinue the work of the committee, which could bring an end to any legal battles aimed at compelling Trump to comply with the subpoena.
Although the subpoena deadlines are set for November, months before that would happen, Trump could use a number of legal moves to prolong the process.
“After a witness refuses to appear, then the next best step is for the House to vote on a contempt citation,” an unnamed Democratic congressional staffer told The Washington Post. “If we hold the House, it’s a live civil case, but that’s not guaranteed.”
Sources close to the situation told the Post one potential delay tactic Trump’s team is looking at suing the committee, arguing it doesn’t have the ability to force him to testify. Though it’s unclear if the lawsuit would work, it could succeed in dragging out the process until the end of the current Congress.
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