“The schedule has always been a challenge to accomplish what we need to accomplish in the timeframe,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) “We’re committed to do it and we’ll use every available tool to get there.”
And the potential hurdles are many — from high-powered lawyers representing the former president’s inner circle to the tech companies sitting on potential witnesses’ communications to possibly even fellow lawmakers who aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
But they’re already getting results from some corners. A select committee aide said the panel has received responses from seven executive-branch agencies to its first, sweeping set of Trump administration document requests. The aide added that the National Archives and Records Administration, which vets the release of such material, has identified two separate tranches of Trump White House documents that it has forwarded to the former president for review, a legally required step before the committee can obtain them — or fight any objections from Trump.
Now that the panel is fully staffed, it’s hoping to build on those bureaucratic wins to shake loose the documents it needs while also readying a wave of subpoenas. Select panel Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Wednesday that a list of subpoena targets would be released as soon as this week.
“There’s a lot that we have to unwind, and there are so many variables in the process,” Thompson said in an interview.
Thompson told POLITICO recently that he hopes to complete the committee’s inquiry this spring, an extraordinarily tight deadline for an investigation of such scope and scale. The panel is attempting to piece together Trump’s pre-Jan. 6 efforts to overturn his election loss, his attempt to mobilize the Justice Department in support of that crusade and the thinking behind his effort to call supporters to Washington on the day Congress gathers to certify presidential election results.
Also on the panel’s to-do list is exploring reforms to the Electoral Count Act that governs that certification process. It’s a huge mandate — but the select committee is clearly taking a different route than comparable congressional investigations as it builds its probe from scratch.
For example, it started hiring staff in June and already has held one public hearing and issued blanket document requests to various companies and agencies. On the other hand, the first Trump impeachment in 2019 relied on three House committees that had been fully staffed for months when the inquiry began.
“We’re moving with great rapidity,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the panel’s seven Democrats and a manager of that 2019 impeachment. “We’re also going to forgo some of the time-consuming steps and where we do meet resistance we intend to push back hard and fast.”
That includes quick subpoenas. In other high-profile Trump-focused inquiries in recent years, lawmakers have taken a deliberate approach that often started with a request for voluntary cooperation and waited weeks before using compulsory means. Such a strategy was meant to guard against legal scrutiny when the subpoenas ultimately ended up in federal court.
But those tactics also enabled Trump to run out the clock on investigations that dogged his presidency, leaving Democrats empty-handed or fighting to obtain materials for years-old probes.
The Jan. 6 panel is hoping to get a boost from the Biden DOJ as it takes a more urgent tack in trying to obtain sensitive information. Where Trump’s DOJ intervened to block House inquiries — supporting executive privilege and immunity claims that Democrats viewed as outlandish — Biden’s administration has indicated it won’t stand in the way.
Schiff also expressed hope that Biden’s DOJ would support House efforts to hold recalcitrant witnesses in contempt of Congress, giving sharper teeth to congressional subpoenas.
Nearly a month has passed since his panel’s initial document requests to federal agencies. which the committee says have resulted in “thousands of pages of documents” turned over to investigators. In addition, Trump’s lawyers are poring over documents provided by the National Archives as they consider whether to invoke privilege to shield some records from congressional investigators. Trump is in the midst of a 30-day review period set out in public records law, due to elapse in early October.
Now, the committee is turning its attention to Trump allies and companies who may resist their demands to turn over reams of private messages and communications. Democrats are aware that any probe could be cut short by a Republican takeover of the House and are wary of efforts by Trump allies to drag their heels — behavior that frustrated previous House investigations, sometimes for years.
The panel’s two Republican members, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, agreed with Democrats that the committee — whose members huddled at the Capitol on Monday for an update from staff — wants to move as fast as it can.
“You’ll see us … use every tool at our disposal to get answers quickly,” Cheney said. While the panel wouldn’t “rush it,” Kinzinger agreed that “we’ll be moving.”
Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.