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The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection appears to be ramping up.
Its court battle to get documents from former President Donald Trump’s administration is intensifying, and it is homing in on aides of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was a target of the insurrectionists.
The committee’s focus points have dripped out over the course of months. Key lines of inquiry appear to include:
- The persistent effort to pressure acting US Department of Justice officials to gin up nonexistent election fraud.
- The pressure campaign to get state election officials in Georgia and elsewhere to “find” votes for Trump.
- The money trail behind rallies that served as preludes to the riot at the US Capitol.
- The Trump team command center at the posh Willard Intercontinental Hotel, situated between the White House and Capitol Hill.
- The January 6 committee’s effort to compel testimony from nonofficial advisers for whom Trump had issued pardons, like Steven Bannon and Michael Flynn.
- The crackpot legal strategy pushed by the legal scholar John Eastman.
Exclusive reporting from CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Zachary Cohen and Michael Warren on Wednesday indicates the committee is now zeroing in on individuals close to Pence. This is in light of Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to force Pence to steal the election and the physical threat the riot posed to Pence and his family.
Will Pence aides talk? According to the report, they “may be willing, either voluntarily or under the guise of a ‘friendly subpoena,’ to provide critical information on how Trump and his allies tried to pressure the former vice president to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”
We already know that former Pence press secretary Alyssa Farah voluntarily spoke with Republicans on the committee in October.
What might they know? Key aides like retired Gen. Keith Kellogg – Pence’s former national security adviser who was issued a subpoena Tuesday – were at the White House on January 6 and privy to meetings between Trump and aides who will not testify.
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the subject of committee frustration, made clear for the first time this week that he will not cooperate. But there are few avenues to compel hostile witnesses.
In the case of Bannon, the House voted to hold him in criminal contempt of court, but Attorney General Merrick Garland has yet to pursue the charge.
Other flies on the wall. Perhaps the Pence witnesses could fill in holes that close Trump allies will not. The committee has also issued subpoenas this week to people who worked at the White House under Meadows, specifically citing their proximity to him.
The CNN report goes into much more detail on which Pence aides are of interest and why.
Pence may be eyeing his own path. A passage farther down in the report is emblematic of the problem in getting any former Pence aides to cooperate. Pence is charting his own political future, which won’t go very far if he completely turns off the Trump wing of the GOP.
“Then there is the looming question of whether Trump himself might run for president again. People close to Pence have told CNN that the former vice president, once known for his unwavering loyalty, won’t wait to see what Trump decides,” write Gangel, Cohen and Warren.
What else is coming? Add that potential testimony from Pence aides to the repeated setbacks Trump has faced in trying to shield documents and communications housed at the National Archives from the committee.
US District Judge Tanya Chutkan this week laid into Trump for his executive privilege claim, pointing out, “Presidents are not kings, and the Plaintiff is not President.”
The question of whether Trump can shield the documents seems destined for the Supreme Court. It’s just a matter of how long that process takes. A federal appeals court on Thursday granted Trump’s request to delay the release for now.
Precedents suggest Trump has a flimsy case. CNN’s Joan Biskupic considered how the Supreme Court might approach Trump’s effort to shield documents from the inquiry. She writes: “Past decisions involving assertions of executive privilege to keep documents confidential suggest Trump has a weak case, even if heard by this increasingly conservative high court, with three Trump appointees on the nine-member bench.”
Richard Nixon also tried to exert executive privilege as a former President – and that case would seem to undercut Trump since President Joe Biden won’t back his claim of privilege.
Biskupic pulls this quote from that 1977 decision: “The privilege is not for the benefit of the President as an individual, but for the benefit of the Republic.”
While she notes the court last year worried that lawmakers could harass a President and interfere with his duties with unacceptable oversight, it’s also true that Trump is no longer President. He has no duties at all.