Trump sues Jan 6 committee to block subpoena for testimony

Published Sat, Nov 12, 2022 · 11:09 AM

FORMER US President Donald Trump has sued to block a subpoena for his testimony issued by the special congressional committee investigating the Jan 6 assault on the US Capitol. 

Trump filed the suit in federal district court in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday (Nov 11) night seeking an order declaring the subpoena invalid and unenforceable. The committee had given Trump until this week to produce documents and until Nov 14, or soon after, to testify.

A protracted legal fight threatens to run out the clock on the committee’s authority, which is set to expire at the end of the congressional term in early January. If Republicans take control of the House following the yet-to-be-resolved midterm elections, that would likely end any chance for the committee to extend its investigation and could end the court case without a resolution. Republicans would likely withdraw the subpoenas.

The subpoena, approved unanimously by the panel on Oct 13, portrays Trump as the key instigator of the Jan 6 attack and efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election.

Trump is claiming “absolute immunity” against being forced to testify, though his lawyers said he offered to answer some questions in writing. The lawyers also wrote that he “voluntarily directed” a search for certain documents requested by the committee but found nothing responsive.

“President Trump has been put in the untenable position of choosing between preserving his rights and the constitutional prerogatives of the Executive Branch, or risking enforcement of the subpoena issued to him,” his lawyers wrote.

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Trump’s attorneys claimed that he had attempted to “resolve this dispute” with the committee but that lawmakers insisted Trump comply with the subpoena. They lodged a host of other claims for why the subpoena is unlawful, including that the committee lacked a “valid legislative purpose,” that members had other means of getting the information they wanted from Trump, and that the demand for information was overbroad and infringed on executive privilege.

Former Trump administration officials and outside allies have failed to convince judges so far to toss out the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoenas, with several judges rejecting the claim that the committee lacks a valid legislative purpose.

But the court battles have delayed the committee’s efforts to enforce its demands for information from key witnesses. And the Justice Department has declined to prosecute two former Trump aides – his former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and adviser Dan Scavino – for ignoring panel subpoenas.

A judge in Washington last month dismissed a subpoena challenge filed by Meadows, but it took more than a year of litigation, and Meadows has continued to press his case in court.

Although the justice department has taken the position in the past that sitting and former presidents are protected against compelled testimony by Congress, that isn’t binding on judges. Trump wouldn’t be the first ex-president to refuse to comply with a congressional subpoena – former President Harry Truman defied a subpoena from the House committee on un-American activities – but the extent of that legal shield has never been directly tested in court.

The justice department has pursued criminal charges against two Trump advisers for refusing to comply with committee subpoenas: Steve Bannon, who is appealing his contempt of Congress conviction, and Peter Navarro, set to face trial in January. It’s unclear what officials would do if the committee made a criminal referral for Trump.

Committee spokesperson Tim Mulvey declined to comment on Trump’s lawsuit.

Trump is being represented by Dhillon Law Group, which has a track record of representing Republicans and conservative causes in court. 

“President Trump joins presidents of both parties in insisting that the legislative branch honor the boundaries set forth in the Constitution, instead of catering to base partisan impulses,” David Warrington, one of Trump’s lawyers, said in a statement.

Representative Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee, said earlier Friday during an appearance at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, that Trump has a “legal obligation” to respond to the panel’s subpoena.

“If he doesn’t – and he’s failed already to produce documents by the deadline – the committee will consider possible next steps,” Cheney said.

“And separately, we’re also obviously considering, as part of the report, criminal referrals,” Cheney told the audience, referring to the committee’s ongoing work in completing a final report of its findings by the end of the year.

The committee is expected to release a final report before the end of the term. Cheney also said Friday that the report would include discussion on the security and intelligence failures surrounding the Jan 6 insurrection, but wouldn’t blame law enforcement “for Donald Trump’s mob.” BLOOMBERG.

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