A video is shown of former US president Donald Trump at the House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol, on October 13, 2022
Washington (AFP) - Lawmakers probing the 2021 attack on the US Capitol voted Thursday to subpoena former president Donald Trump to testify on his role in the violence, in a major escalation of the sprawling inquiry weeks before it is due to wind up.
During what was expected to be its final hearing before the midterm elections, the House panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans agreed unanimously to compel Trump’s appearance before investigators.
“We need to be fair and thorough and gain a full context for the evidence we’ve obtained. But the need for this committee to hear from Donald Trump goes beyond our fact-finding,” said Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee.
“This is a question about accountability to the American people. He must be accountable. He is required to answer for his actions.”
Subpoenas from the panel have proved difficult to enforce, with former White House aide Steve Bannon the only target yet convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply.
Trump is notorious for his ability to run down the clock on congressional investigations and legal action, and it remains highly unlikely that he would agree to give evidence.
“Why didn’t the Unselect Committee ask me to testify months ago? Why did they wait until the very end, the final moments of their last meeting?” thundered Trump, who has had a standing invitation to appear before the committee.
Reacting on his right-wing Truth Social platform, Trump said the committee was a “total ‘BUST’ that has only served to further divide our Country.”
Any subpoena would expire in any case with the new congressional term in January. Control of the House of Representatives is expected to flip after November elections to the Republicans, who plan to immediately end the investigation.
But the move marks an aggressive escalation of the probe, which has issued more than 100 subpoenas and interviewed more than 1,000 people since its inception in 2021.
While no sitting president has ever been forced to testify before Congress, lawmakers have summoned former presidents to discuss their conduct in office.
- ‘Clear and present’ threat -
Democrat Bennie Thompson and Republican Liz Cheney are the chairman and vice chairwoman of the investigating panel
Trump didn’t say whether he would testify, but if he refuses to comply, the full House can hold him in criminal contempt in a vote recommending him for prosecution.
The vote came as a spectacular coda to an already stunning hearing in which the committee offered fresh evidence that Trump had planned to declare victory in the 2020 election – regardless of the outcome.
Trump had a “premeditated plan” formulated months before the vote to claim he had won on election night, whatever the vote tally showed, panel member Zoe Lofgren told the hearing, citing evidence gathered by the committee.
Across eight hearings in the summer the panel unveiled reams of evidence on the former president’s involvement in a labyrinthine series of connected schemes to overturn the election.
The committee pressed its position on Thursday that Trump – who continues to be a wellspring of disinformation about the 2020 presidential election – remains a “clear and present” threat to democracy.
Blockbuster witness testimony in June and July provided stunning examples of Trump and his allies pressuring election officials and trying to get lawfully-cast votes nullified in swing states, and of Trump’s inertia amid the mob uprising.
Lawmakers plan to release a final report by the end of the year, although preliminary findings could be announced before November’s midterm elections.
The committee has not announced formally whether it will make direct criminal referrals over January 6, although several members see the issue as moot, since the Justice Department is already investigating.
- ‘Right to the violence’ -
Thursday’s hearing featured new video footage from a Danish film crew shot for a documentary about longtime Trump ally Roger Stone.
Former US president Donald Trump, who addressed supporters on January 6, 2021, before the violence broke out, has not been interviewed by investigators
In one clip from the day before the 2020 election played to the packed hearing room, the notorious self-styled “dirty trickster” was seen telling the filmmakers he has no interest in waiting to contest the vote tally.
“Let’s get right to the violence,” says the 70-year-old Republican operative, who has not been charged in connection with the riot.
One of the most chilling moments came when the hearing room was shown footage of congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi desperately phoning officials to call for help as the Capitol was being ransacked around them.
“They’re just breaking windows… they said somebody was shot. It’s just horrendous, and all at the instigation of the president of the United States,” Pelosi is pictured saying.
The panel also unveiled evidence developed from nearly one million pages of documents surrendered by the Secret Service, as lawmakers seek to understand why certain agents’ text messages from the eve of the insurrection and the day itself went missing.
Trump supporters clashed with police and security forces when they stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021
Secret Service emails obtained by investigators confirm testimony from previous hearings that Trump wanted to join the mob at the Capitol – a move that would have escalated a riot into an attack by one branch of the government on another, potentially upending the republic.
Trump, who urged his supporters in a fiery speech near the White House to “fight like hell,” was impeached for inciting the mob to storm Congress to halt the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden.