The committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol took the unprecedented step Thursday of issuing subpoenas to five Republican congressmen, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
The Democratic-controlled committee previously had asked the congressmen, who also include Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs of Arizona, to sit for voluntary interviews, but all had refused.
With the exception of ethics committee investigations, the subpoenas are believed to be the first congressional subpoenas to sitting members and will almost certainly be challenged in court.
The panel has said that all five congressmen, who are allies of former President Donald Trump, have information critical to its probe of the deadly riot by a mob of Trump supporters seeking to disrupt President Joe Biden's election victory.
"We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement.
McCarthy told reporters Thursday that he hadn't yet seen the subpoena and said the panel is "not conducting a legitimate investigation. It seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents."
In a letter to McCarthy in January, Thompson said the panel wanted to hear about discussions the House GOP leader may have had with Trump and White House staffers in the days surrounding the riot, including a heated phone call with Trump on Jan. 6.
McCarthy, who was highly critical of Trump immediately after the riot, rejected the request, saying, "I have concluded to not participate with this select committee’s abuse of power that stains this institution today and will harm it going forward."
Perry was the first congressman the committee asked to interview. Thompson said in a letter to Perry in December that the panel “had received evidence from multiple witnesses that you had an important role” in efforts to install Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general in the waning days of the Trump administration.
Perry told reporters the committee is "illegitimate" and said, "This whole thing’s a charade.”
The panel said Jordan, a top Trump ally and one of his most outspoken defenders, “had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th.”
Thompson told Jordan in December the panel also wanted to ask him questions involving meetings he may have had “with White House officials and the then-President in November and December 2020, and early January 2021, about strategies for overturning the results of the 2020 election.” Jordan responded in January, saying he had "no relevant information that would assist the select committee in advancing any legitimate legislative purpose."
The panel asked to speak to Biggs and Brooks earlier this month.
The panel told Biggs it wanted to question him about his involvement in planning the rally for Jan. 6 as well as “efforts to persuade state legislators and officials that the 2020 election was stolen and/or to seek assistance from those individuals in President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.”
Thompson and the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., also told Biggs the panel has information from former White House personnel about “an effort by certain House Republicans after January 6th to seek a presidential pardon for activities taken in connection with President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Your name was identified as a potential participant in that effort,” the letter said.
Biggs responded then that he would “not be participating in the illegitimate and Democrat-sympathizing House Jan. 6 committee panel.”
He sounded a similar note in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.
“I think this is an illegitimate committee, and they don’t really have the authority to issue subpoenas in my opinion. So, we don’t want to dignify what they are doing,” Biggs said.
The committee told Brooks, a former top Trump ally who had a recent falling out with the former president after he withdrew his endorsement of Brooks in the Alabama Senate race, about the congressman's public comments that Trump had “asked me to rescind the 2020 elections” and “immediately put President Trump back in the White House.”
Brooks said at the time that “I wouldn’t help (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and Liz Cheney cross the street. I’m certainly not going to help them and their Witch Hunt Committee. If they want to talk, they can send me a subpoena, which I will fight.”
On Thursday, Brooks said he believed it would be "wise to wait and consult" with his fellow subpoenaed congressmen "to determine whether it is best to present a united response to the partisan Witch Hunt Committee before giving a formal statement about how I intend to conduct myself."
Asked about the subpoenas, Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the panel, “I respect whatever they do. It is their decision.”
House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Thursday that she believed a House committee had never subpoenaed a sitting member of Congress in her nearly 30 years of service.
“I’ve never seen it before,” she told NBC News.
Asked about the subpoenas' unprecedented nature, committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said “an attempted coup and violent insurrection at the Capitol interrupting the peaceful transfer of power are unprecedented events.”
The subpoenas call for all five to meet with the committee before the end of the month, and come as the panel is believed to be in the final phases of its investigation. The committee is scheduled to hold a series of hearings on the probe in June.