Sep 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Rep. Schiff: "Criminal contempt" possible for Jan. 6 committee witnesses who refuse to testify

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaking in the Capitol on Sept. 21.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaking in the Capitol on Sept. 21. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The select committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol riot will likely use the Department of Justice to enforce subpoenas for testimony from former Trump officials, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a select committee member, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

Why it matters: House committees struggled to force members of the Trump administration to comply with subpoenas — most notably former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn.

  • McGahn, who was central to some of the most tumultuous episodes outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation report, refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, resulting in a roughly two-year standoff between the Justice Department and the committee.
  • The Justice Department finally resolved the issue only after President Biden was elected, and McGahn agreed to speak with the committee behind closed doors.

What they're saying: Schiff said he expects that the Jan. 6 committee will run into fewer roadblocks with witnesses refusing to comply with testimonial subpoenas because of the Biden administration.

  • "We may have additional tools now that we didn't before, including a Justice Department that may be willing to pursue criminal contempt when people deliberately flout compulsory process," Schiff said.
  • "And that will be the most substantial difference between now and what we saw over the last four years," he added. "I think we have to anticipate that there are going to be people who don't want to talk because they feel it would incriminate them or incriminate others."
  • "This administration, like any other, I would not expect them to give us a blank check and say we're going to never assert privilege, or never support an assertion of privilege, But I think the indications are very positive."

The big picture: Though it so far has not issued any subpoenas for testimony, Schiff said he was not concerned about the pace of the select committee's investigation because it has been requesting documents and other forms of evidence.

Bottom line: The select committee is at least pressed by the 2022 midterm elections.

  • If Democrats lose control of the House, the select committee would likely be in peril.

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