During the Trump administration, Congressional subpoenas were often ignored by executive branch officials to the point of not being worth the paper they were printed on.
Using executive privilege or other evasive excuses, senior Trump officials refused to testify or even simply show up for their congressionally mandated appearances before committees seeking to exercise Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight functions.
Now that Donald Trump has been ousted from the presidency and House Democrats — along with the only two GOP representatives willing to oppose the former president’s attempts to claim a stolen election — are determined to get the bottom of the shadowy forces who organized what many call on ongoing coup attempt and have issued subpoenas to many former Trump campaign figures to appear before the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection.
Given the Trump administration’s track record of ignoring demands to testify in front of Congress, many people are concerned that even with the former president’s exit from the White House rendering his claims of executive privilege dubious, people in the Trump orbit will continue to refuse to turn up at their scheduled appearances.
The chairman of the House committee, Congressman Benny Thompson (D-MS), is doing his best to make sure that this time around the congressional subpoenas will have some bite.
Thompson told reporters on Friday that his committee would be issuing “criminal referrals” for uncooperative witnesses who reject subpoena requests and deadlines.
“The committee will probably come for those who don’t agree to come in voluntarily, we’ll do criminal referrals and let that process work out,” Thompson confirmed to reporters at the Capitol.
Among those already subpoenaed by the committee are former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, former Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel, and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Congressman Adam Schiff, who endured the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate when he led the House prosecution for the former president’s impeachment trial, explained the difference that the select committee faces in dealing with non-cooperative witnesses.
“We have additional tools that we didn’t before, including a Justice Department that may be willing to pursue criminal contempt when people deliberately flout the compulsory process,” Schiff told reporters Thursday.
With progress in the select committee’s investigation potentially at the mercy of lengthy legal disputes over subpoenaed materials and testimony, the suggestion that the House may resort to criminal sanctions for those who defy its investigators powers has created some limited optimism that at least some of the most intractable Trump administration figures will be forced to cooperate with the investigation or face the kind of punishment for their defiance that they escaped while Trump was still in office.
Original reporting by Caroline Downey at Yahoo News.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.