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Explained: Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Trump


The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 has subpoenaed Donald Trump. They want him to testify under oath and to turn over official records. NPR's Barbara Sprunt joins us now. Barbara, thanks so much for being with us.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: What's the committee asking for?

SPRUNT: Well, it's asking for Trump's testimony under oath and for records that are relevant to its investigation. This isn't a surprise. It comes about a week after the committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump, and the committee has outlined document requests. So it wants communications that Trump had with longtime ally Roger Stone, any employee of the Secret Service that Trump interacted with on Jan. 6, and two of his attorneys, John Eastman and Sidney Powell. They want the documents by Nov. 4th and the testimony by Nov. 14th.

SIMON: And why does the committee say it wants the material?

SPRUNT: Well, the committee says essentially that Trump was behind the whole thing. The committee says it has overwhelming evidence from dozens of Trump's former staff and appointees that Trump purposefully spread false claims of fraud, attempted to corrupt the Justice Department, and pressured state officials to change the results of the elections in their states. So broadly, it said Trump continued to pursue efforts to subvert democracy and overturn the election results despite the fact that his staff was telling him his claims of election fraud were false. And that's not to mention that the courts also soundly rejected those fraud claims as well.

SIMON: The letter is in line with the committee's most recent hearing, isn't it?

SPRUNT: Yeah, it is. I mean, at that hearing, the committee did introduce some new video evidence. We saw some footage that we hadn't seen before of congressional leaders, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sort of springing into action after being whisked away from the Capitol during the attack. But the main thrust of that hearing was a broader look at all the pieces of evidence and testimony that had gathered so far to lay out the case that Trump was the central player here. People followed him.

But as Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the committee, said, the attack on the Capitol and the violence that we saw would never have happened without Trump. She called him personally and substantially involved in all of it. And ahead of the vote, she described the need to subpoena the former president as a necessary step in the investigation itself.

LIZ CHENEY: We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion. And every American is entitled to those answers so we can act now to protect our republic.

SIMON: And Barbara, presidents and former presidents have been subpoenaed, haven't they?

SPRUNT: They have. And the committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, and Cheney as well actually addressed this in their letter perhaps in anticipation of something that former President Trump might have to say. They say they recognize a subpoena for a former president, it is significant. They don't take it lightly. But it's not the first time. They point out that former and sitting presidents, including Richard Nixon, John Tyler, John Quincy Adams, all provided evidence in response to congressional subpoenas.

SIMON: And how has Donald Trump or people around him responded to the prospect of a subpoena?

SPRUNT: Well, Trump's lawyer told NPR that, like with any legal matter, they'll review and analyze the subpoena, and they'll respond to what they're calling an unprecedented action. As for Trump, he himself has previously criticized the committee quite harshly. He's called it a, quote, "total bust that has only served to further divide the country." After the committee voted last week on issuing that subpoena, Trump sent a 14-page letter to Thompson, calling the members of the committee partisan political hacks and thugs. He defended his actions leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol. And he actually praised the people who participated in that attack as well.

SIMON: NPR's Barbara thanks so much.

SPRUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.