Congress Just Subpoenaed Donald Trump over the January 6 Riot

It's the most dramatic move yet to hold the former president accountable for his actions leading up to and during the January 6 riot.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection voted Thursday to subpoena former President Donald Trump over his alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It’s a dramatic step to potentially hold the former president responsible for the Capitol riot, which is without precedent in American history. 

The committee, made up of seven Democrats and two departing Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, issued the subpoena after months of public hearings and more than a year investigating the lead-up and events of Jan. 6, 2021, when pro-Trump protesters rioted at the U.S. Capitol. 

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The issuing of the subpoena was first reported by NBC News. It’s only the fourth time a president has been subpoenaed by Congress in the 246-year history of the United States, though none has ever been compelled to comply with the subpoena. 

“We have left no doubt, none, that Donald Trump led an effort to upend democracy that directly resulted in the violence of January 6,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said during Thursday’s hearing. “He tried to take away the voice of the American people.”

Thompson said it was a “serious and extraordinary action,” but that the committee’s finding “obligated” them to subpoena Trump. “The need for this committee to hear from Donald Trump goes beyond our fact-finding,” Thompson said. “He must be accountable.”

Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, a House Republican who lost her primary for re-election this summer in large part due to her role on the committee and vote to impeach Trump, made the motion for the subpoena. The committee voted unanimously to issue the subpoena. 

In a Thursday post on Truth Social, the social media network Trump founded following his Twitter ban, the former president asked: “Why didn’t the Unselect Committee [sic] ask me to testify months ago? Why did they wait until the very end, the final moments of their last meeting?”

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“Because the Committee is a total ‘BUST’ that has only further served to divide our Country, which, by the way, is doing very badly — A laughing stock all over the World?” Nowhere in Trump’s post was a denial of the Jan. 6 committee’s accusations. 

Trump also posted a two-minute ad for his Save America PAC calling the committee a “sham” and once again reiterating his lie that there was “overwhelming evidence of election fraud.”

Whether the subpoena moves forward and Trump is ultimately compelled to testify is largely contingent on the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Republicans are favored to win control of the House chamber, and leading Republicans have indicated that they plan to not only dissolve the committee but also subpoena the committee’s own records if they win control of the House.

Thursday’s hearing focused on Trump’s knowledge that he had clearly lost the election before Jan. 6, and his alleged incitement of the riot, which resulted in the deaths of at least seven people. 

"None of this would have happened without [Trump],” Cheney said during her opening statement. “He was personally and substantially involved in all of it."

“Trump had all of this information, but still he made the conscious choice to fraudulently claim the election was stolen,” Cheney said. “None of this is normal or acceptable or lawful in our republic.” Cheney also said that the committee was possibly prepared to "make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.” 

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In his opening remarks, Thompson said the eight previous hearings, which took place in June and July, revealed a “multipart plan” to overturn the results of the 2020 election, in a “staggering betrayal” of the oath TRump took when he became president. “It is still hard to believe,” said Thompson. 

Both Thompson and Cheney stressed that the committee’s ability to hold the alleged masterminds of the Capitol riot accountable could have grave consequences for the future of democracy. “It’s not about politics, it’s not about party. It’s about facts, pure and simple,” said Thompson. He added that the hearing would contain details about the “ongoing threat to American democracy.” 

Cheney’s warnings were even more stark. “Another Jan. 6 could happen again if we do not take action to prevent it,” she said, and expressed concern that Trump may have created a playbook for American leaders to steal future elections. For example, someone who wanted to steal an election “has now learned not to install people who could stand in the way.” 

"With every effort to excuse or justify the conduct of the former president, we chip away at the foundation of our republic. Without accountability, it all becomes normal and it will recur,” said Cheney.  "As we watch the evidence today, please consider where our nation is in its history. Consider whether we can survive for another 246 years."

In recent weeks, the Secret Service handed over nearly 1.5 million communications, including emails and planning documents, to the House select committee. The review of those communications remains ongoing, but among the communications includes a tip to the Secret Service that the Proud Boys planned “to literally kill people,” as well as a bulletin that there were calls from Trump supporters to “occupy government buildings.” 

Though some Trump campaign and Secret Service officials testified there was no indication of potential violence on Jan. 6 prior to that day, campaign senior adviser Jason Miller boasted to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in a Dec. 30 text message that he “got the base FIRED UP” and linked to the far-right website thedonald.win. 

Among the comments on that site preceding Jan. 6 displayed during Thursday’s hearing: “Gallows don’t require electricity.”