The unanimous decision of the House Select Committee on January 6 to subpoena donald trumpdemanding that he testify to his knowledge of the attack on the Capitol, opens up the prospect of a political spectacle as the congressional investigation races to what could be an explosive conclusion.
The former US president may decide to ignore the subpoena and decide not to cooperate with the investigation, or alternatively, believing he is his best spokesperson and can answer for his actions to anyone, may accept a dramatic statement.
But whichever path Trump chooses, the decision with constitutional consequences looks certain to become a politically acute spectacle as well — with each side seeking to achieve its own goals as the congressional investigation into the Capitol attack prepares to wrap up. his work.
The driving factor that drives Trump to want to testify centers on a reflexive belief that he can convince investigators that their own investigation is a supposed witch hunt and convince them that he committed no crime on Jan. 6, according to reports. sources familiar with the matter.
Trump has previously expressed his eagerness to appear before the select committee and “take his pound of flesh” as long as he can appear live in front of an audience, the sources said – a thought he reiterated to close aides on Thursday after the panel voted to issue him a subpoena.
But Trump also appears to have become more aware of the pitfalls of testifying in investigations, with lawyers warning him of mounting legal problems in criminal investigations by the Justice Department and a civil lawsuit by the prosecutor’s office. of New York State.
The former president invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times in a deposition to the New York State Attorney’s Office before he filed a fraud complaint against him, three of his children and senior executives of the Trump Organization.
Trump also ultimately followed the advice of his lawyers during the special counsel’s investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, submitting only written responses to investigators despite initially telling advisers that wanted to testify in person to clear his name.
Trump’s issue with the select committee remains whether the panel would accept a request to testify live. The select committee rejected testimony with conditions for virtually all witnesses except former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
If Trump ties his appearance to conditions the select committee cannot agree to, it’s unclear what options are available to compel his testimony given his position as a former president.
Select Committee Chairman Congressman Bennie Thompson said before the vote to issue a subpoena to Trump that the main reason the panel had requested his testimony was because of his singular role in driving events toward the January 6 required full accountability.
Members of the select committee believe securing Trump’s testimony could address several unresolved issues — such as his contacts with political operatives in the Trump War Room at the Willard Hotel, sources say — but Thompson added that it went beyond collecting evidence.
“He has to be accountable. He is held accountable for his actions,” Thompson said.
But the select committee is expected to face difficulties if it seeks to enforce its subpoena in court, with Trump lawyers focusing on opinions from the Justice Department’s attorneys’ office saying former presidents enjoy absolute immunity to testify before Congress.
The panel’s previous attempts to force Trump White House officials to comply with subpoenas have resulted in protracted legal battles over executive privilege that have been mostly resolved through partial cooperation, such as with the former Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Attempts to secure judicial enforcement against Trump would take even longer and given the Justice Department’s internal stance on absolute immunity – a stronger protection than executive privilege – the effort could be totally unsuccessful, legal experts said.
The select committee could also refer the former president to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress as it did with former aides Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, but the Justice Department would likely decline to prosecute based on the immunity standard, the experts said.
The math appears to leave Trump with the political prisoner’s dilemma, said a person with direct knowledge of the investigation – adding that they believe the panel will be seen in history as having done everything they could to uncover the Trump’s connection to the Capitol attack.