WASHINGTON — Like an iceberg that hides most of its mass beneath the surface, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol incited by former President Donald Trump has quietly gathered far more information than its public announcements suggest.
Marc Short, a top aide to former Vice President Mike Pence, was subpoenaed weeks ago by the committee. It finally became public this week. And former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who last week said he would cooperate with the committee, on Tuesday announced through his lawyer that he would not — and cited previously unknown collection of his cell phone logs by the committee as the reason.
“While we’ve announced roughly 40 subpoenas, the select committee has heard from 275 witnesses, both individuals complying with subpoenas and those participating with our investigation voluntarily,” a committee aide said on condition of anonymity. “We’ve taken in more than 30,000 pages of records, received hundreds of tips, and are making rapid progress in this phase of our investigation.”
Norm Eisen, an Obama White House lawyer who worked with the House committee that prosecuted Trump’s first impeachment, said the under-the-radar work makes sense. “In the case of Marc Short, it appears that they quietly issued appropriate process, and he’s been cooperating for weeks,” he said. “If they’d done it publicly, who knows what sort of threats and intimidation he might have received.”
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That Short, who was with Pence at the Capitol when Trump’s mob stormed the building, would cooperate was not surprising, given that Trump had endangered his life. What was not previously confirmed, though, was that the committee has been issuing “friendly” subpoenas to give witnesses the ability to say they are merely complying with a lawful demand for testimony.
Similarly, while the committee in August released letters to 35 telecommunications and technology companies asking them to preserve records of certain individuals, the names of those people were not released, and it was not until Meadows’ lawyer told the committee his client would not be cooperating that it became clear that Meadows — who was with Trump all that day — was among them.
“Congressional investigators certainly don’t and shouldn’t always make a big public show of whom they are subpoenaing,” Eisen said, adding that it was similar to the tactic his Trump impeachment committee used. “There were many interviews that we conducted that helped shape the impeachment that we did not publicize.”
The committee, meanwhile, continues trying to persuade recalcitrant or even hostile witnesses to provide testimony. The panel and the full House previously referred Trump adviser Steve Bannon for criminal contempt charges for refusing to cooperate. On Tuesday a federal judge set a summer trial date.
The committee similarly approved contempt charges against former Trump Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, but then scheduled a deposition date for him to plead his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. That is now set for Dec. 16 after Clark requested a postponement from last week due to illness.
And on Tuesday, the committee released a joint statement from chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice-chair Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) promising that if Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman, failed to show up for his scheduled deposition on Wednesday: “The select committee will be left no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.”
Trump became the first president in American history to refuse to hand over power peacefully and tried to remain in office despite losing reelection by 7 million votes. The Jan. 6 insurrection was his last-ditch attempt to coerce Pence into declaring Trump the winner notwithstanding the result.