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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack votes to subpoena Trump

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol wants answers from Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: This is a question about accountability to the American people. He must be accountable. He is required to answer for his actions. He is required to answer to those police officers who put their lives and bodies on the line to defend our democracy.

FADEL: That's committee chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi during a hearing that closed with the panel unanimously voting to subpoena the former president's testimony and documents. Yesterday's hearing summed up a year-and-a-half-long investigation that found former President Trump pushed the big lie that the election was stolen, even though he knew he lost, that he pressured state officials and his own vice president to overturn the results and that he summoned a violent mob to the Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power. We're joined now by one of the nine January 6 committee members, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Good morning, Congressman.

JAMIE RASKIN: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. So, Congressman, let's start with that big question. Will Trump comply with the subpoena?

RASKIN: Well, of course, that's going to be up to him, although we've talked to more than a thousand people now, and the vast majority of people that we've contacted or subpoenaed have recognized that this is both a legal duty and also a civic opportunity. And many people have told us that they felt it's their patriotic obligation to come forward, to share whatever knowledge they have with the committee as we investigate this worst mass violent domestic assault on Congress in our history. So...

FADEL: But have his lawyers indicated that he will, or has there been any indication that he'll comply?

RASKIN: Well, remember, yesterday we just voted to direct the chairman to render a subpoena to Donald Trump. It hasn't happened yet. He hasn't sent it. So we've not been in touch with them, at least as far as I know. But again, you know, before we - everybody wants to talk about, well, will he do it, or what if he won't do it, and what would we do in that case and so on.

FADEL: Right.

RASKIN: And I just want everybody to focus for a moment, at least, on what you would do, wherever you are, if you had information about this attack. Would you come forward and talk to the representatives of the American people, or would you blow it off like Steve Bannon did, who now has been convicted of contempt of Congress for simply thinking that he's somehow above and beyond the law?

FADEL: Well, on that note, what would you do if former President Trump rebuffs your subpoena? Would it be a similar situation?

RASKIN: Well, I mean, that's the hypothetical I don't really want to entertain at this point just because I want people to focus on what it means for a former president of the United States to say, well, obviously, I was at the center of these events - according to everything we found, he was the driving factor behind every element of the assault on democracy - but I'm not going to participate.

Now, in the criminal context, we couldn't even comment on his refusal to testify because of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. But in the civil context, which is what we're in now, we can comment all we want. And in fact, Justice Scalia, for a unanimous Supreme Court, repeatedly found we can derive adverse inferences towards the information he has if he refuses to come forward. So essentially, he's assenting to our establishment of his central culpability in staging the coup against America and the violent insurrection if he doesn't show up. But look. You know, what can Congress do? We can seek criminal sanctions, as we successfully did against Steve Bannon. We can seek civil...

FADEL: But not Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff.

RASKIN: That's right because he complied substantially before Trump pressured him to disengage from the process. We can go to court to ask for a civil order enforcing the subpoena, and that leads to civil contempt, people being held behind bars until they decide to comply. That's the kind of contempt where the courts have said you hold the keys to your own freedom. All you have to do is meet the subpoena, and then you can get out of jail. Or we could use the inherent power of subpoena and enforcement of subpoena that Congress itself has. Now, that hasn't been used for decades, but the Supreme Court, again, has been emphatic that Congress has the power to enforce its subpoenas the same way that courts do.

So, you know, I'm hopeful that - you know, we don't think this is just some kind of poetic exercise. We really want and expect Donald Trump to come forward and to answer a whole bunch of questions we have about this attack on our constitutional order.

FADEL: Now, so much about this moment is unprecedented or feels unprecedented - the attack on the Capitol and many things that have come after. So it feels weird, strange to say, well, the subpoena - also unprecedented. But I wonder if this also raises risks. There has already been issues around separation of powers raised. Is the risk of issuing this subpoena worth the further division of the nation, frankly?

RASKIN: Well, multiple presidents and seven former presidents have come to testify before Congress, several of them voluntarily. At least two of them that we could find - John Tyler and John Quincy Adams - came forward under a subpoena. And John Quincy Adams said, you know, we don't have a title or an office of former president of the United States the way a lot of countries do in their constitution. He said a former president is just a citizen. And of course, citizen is the highest office in the land we have. And those of us who aspire and attain to public office are nothing but the servants of the people.

So his being a former president does not entitle him to skip out on the law. In fact, multiple people, including his own lawyers in the impeachment trial, were saying during the impeachment, well, the real way to deal with Donald Trump is, if there were crimes committed, to subpoena him later.

FADEL: In the final few seconds, I just want to ask, does the work of the committee matter if a large swath of this country doesn't care or trust the investigation? In just a few seconds.

RASKIN: Well, I think increasingly people do trust it. And the work of the committee is essential because in a democracy, people have the right to the truth and the facts about their own government.

FADEL: Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of the Select House Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Thank you so much.

RASKIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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