December 27, 2021
After interviewing more than 300 people, issuing more than 50 subpoenas, and reviewing more than 35,000 pages of documents, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is circling closer to former president Trump and his allies. They, in turn, appear to be trying to stop the committee from getting the information it wants.
Today, The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell reported that the committee is interested in the phone calls Trump made late on the night of January 5 to the so-called “war rooms” at the Willard Hotel, one containing lawyers and the other non-lawyers. (According to Lowell, the reason the two groups were separated seems to be that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was hoping to preserve the idea of attorney-client privilege to keep Trump’s conversations with the lawyers secret, although lawyers say there are limits to attorney-client privilege—most notably that it does not cover a situation in which attorneys plan illegal actions with their client.)
Last month, sources told Lowell that on at least one of the calls Trump made in the hours before January 6, he tried to press his allies into a scheme to replace Biden’s certified electors with uncertified electors pledged to him. Today, Lowell reported that January 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told him that the committee was interested in the “content” of those calls. Thompson told CNN’s Jim Acosta, "The 'war room' at the Willard Hotel and the individuals in it is a key part of the Select Committee’s investigation. This includes ANYONE who communicated by telephone." The capitalization was Thompson’s.
At least some of that content should be archived at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), from which the committee has already subpoenaed documents.
On December 23, Trump asked the Supreme Court to block the committee’s subpoena for NARA material, although he had lost decisively in the lower courts. Even if the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s position, though, the researcher in me notes that there are clearly people who know what happened that night, and they are talking. How else would Lowell have gotten his scoop about the calls in the first place?
Those who worked with Trump and his allies in the days before the January 6 insurrection must also know that people are talking, but they don’t know what’s been said. The committee is taking advantage of this uncertainty to pressure people to cooperate. Just before the Christmas holiday, it expanded its reach to ask two members of Congress—Scott Perry (R-PA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH)—about their contacts with Trump in those crucial days. It asked Perry to meet with the committee as early as December 28, and Jordan to meet with the committee on January 3 or 4.
In their letters, the committee members bent over backward to make it sound like they were deferring to the congressmen—even offering to come to their home districts to interview them—but they also indicated they already have significant information about what happened on January 6, without showing just how much they know.
In the letters, they cited “evidence from multiple witnesses,” and “documents on file with the Select Committee” as sources for their statements that Perry used an encrypted texting app, that “the president was watching television coverage of the attack from his private dining room adjoining the Oval Office during this time period,” and that “[e]ven after the crowd ultimately dispersed late in the day, then-President Trump, through his legal team, continued to seek to delay or otherwise impede the electoral count.”
Perry immediately refused to meet voluntarily with the committee, saying that it was illegitimate and that he would “continue to fight the failures of the radical Left.”
When it wrote to Jordan, the committee reminded him that he had publicly indicated he would be willing to be interviewed. “When you were asked during a Rules Committee hearing on October 20, 2021, whether you would be willing to share with the Select Committee the information you have regarding January 6th and the events leading up to that day, you responded, ‘I’ve said all along, “I have nothing to hide.” I’ve been straightforward all along.’”
Jordan has not yet responded to the committee’s request.
The committee has also clearly not left its information-gathering process to the mercy of those potentially involved in the insurrection. Late Friday, Taylor Budowich, Trump’s spokesperson and a senior advisor to Trump’s 2020 campaign, sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the January 6 committee, and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank to block a subpoena from the committee for Budowich’s financial information in the weeks before the insurrection. In his lawsuit, Budowich revealed that he testified for about four hours and produced more than 1700 pages of documents—enough, he says, “to identify all account transactions” connected to the “Stop the Steal” rally in which the committee was interested. In its letter explaining its subpoena to him, the committee said it had reason to believe he had moved $200,000 from an undisclosed organization into advertising for the rally.
Budowich was apparently shocked to get a letter from his bank indicating it would respond to a subpoena for his bank records, and that neither the bank nor the committee would give him a copy of the subpoena to see what was in it. This, he says, shows “a lack of good faith” on the part of the committee.
Budowich joins a number of Trump loyalists now suing the committee to stop subpoenas. Their arguments echo the Big Lie in their attempt to undermine our government. Budowich maintains that the January 6 committee is illegitimate because of the way Pelosi organized it, that it has no legitimate legislative purpose, that subpoenaing his bank records is a violation of his First Amendment right to associate with whom he wishes, and that asking for his bank records breaks a specific banking law.
Courts have already dismissed all of these arguments when presented by other Trump loyalists, but you can see developing the myth of an illegitimate Democratic crusade to persecute Trump and those who were, in this telling, simply trying to protect the country. “Democracy is under attack,” Budowich said on Twitter after he filed the lawsuit. “However, not by the people who illegally entered the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, but instead by a committee whose members walk freely in its halls every day…. I will not allow some politicians to intimidate me for my support of President Donald J. Trump.”
In the new year, the January 6 committee is planning to hold public hearings to explain what it has learned about the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. “We want to tell it from start to finish over a series of weeks, where we can bring out the best witnesses in a way that makes the most sense,” a senior committee aide told Washington Post reporters Jacqueline Alemany and Tom Hamburger. “Our legacy piece and final product will be the select committee’s report.”
If anyone is interested, Budowich’s lawsuit reproduces the letters and subpoenas exchanged in his case, and it’s kind of cool to read through what a committee subpoena actually looks like: