The Bannon Subpoena Is Just the Beginning. Congress' Jan. 6 Investigation Is Going Big
The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack fired a massive shot into the heart of former President Trump’s inner circle Thursday night, and the four subpoenas sent to former White House officials are likely just the beginning. A review of committee documents, including some obtained exclusively by Rolling Stone, makes clear the House select committee is looking broadly at Trump’s inner circle. The documents also reveal the congressional investigation is going beyond the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 to examine the role Trump’s top allies played in encouraging the insurrection and their broader efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
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The committee’s aggressive approach to the top levels of Trump’s former administration has been outlined in its records requests to federal agencies and to tech and telecom companies. The records show that investigators are pursuing Trump’s allies in Congress, where one Republican member’s chief of staff has been identified as part of the probe. The documents obtained by Rolling Stone show the committee asked for information from at least 35 tech companies. And Thursday’s subpoenas show the select committee is following through on its earlier efforts to pursue documents from Trump’s White House. Spokespeople for the committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
This focus on higher profile figures, as well as the months of efforts by Trump allies to undo his election loss to President Joe Biden, is a stark contrast to the approach taken so far by the FBI. That probe — the largest in the bureau’s history — has, thus far, largely focused on Trump supporters who actually broke inside the building, and charges have been filed against more than 600 people.
The congressional committee’s focus contains more political risk than a narrow probe targeted at people caught on camera storming the Capitol or attacking police officers. But a probe targeting those individuals exclusively would forgo even an attempt at accountability for the power elected officials who promoted a false narrative about a stolen election and called on Trump supporters to descend on Washington en masse on the day President Biden’s election was being certified.
Thursday’s subpoenas marked a major step forward in the search for that accountability. The panel requested records and testimony from former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, former top White House strategist Steve Bannon, former Trump deputy chief of staff and director of social media Dan Scavino, and former Pentagon official and Trump loyalist Kashyap Patel.
In the statement announcing those subpoenas, the committee indicated it was interested in Patel both due to his role in “discussions among senior Pentagon officials prior to and on January 6th, 2021, regarding “security at the Capitol” and due to a reported effort to place him at the Central Intelligence Agency last December in the aftermath of the election. Bannon, a former White House official and on-again-off-again Trump confidante, was cited by the committee for a reported conversation he had with the former president last December 30 where he pressed Trump “to focus his efforts on January 6th” and for allegedly attending “a gathering at the Willard Hotel on January 5th, 2021, as part of an effort to persuade Members of Congress to block the certification of the election the next day.”
Meadows, who was Trump’s White House chief of staff, was cited by the committee for reportedly communicating “with officials at the state level and in the Department of Justice as part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election or prevent the election’s certification” and for being in touch with organizers of pro-Trump rallies in Washington on January 6. The subpoena announcement indicated Scavino, a former caddy at Trump’s golf club who became his social media guru on the campaign trail, attracted the committee’s interest due to his promotion of the January 6 rallies and because he was reportedly present “during a discussion of how to convince Members of Congress not to certify the election for Joe Biden” with Trump the day before the Capitol attack. Meadows and Bannon did not respond to requests for comment. Scavino and Patel could not be reached. All four were instructed to turn over documents and to testify before the committee next month: The subpoenas call on Patel and Bannon to testify on October 14th and Meadows and Scavino to testify on the 15th.
A ‘Sweeping’ Investigation into Trump Team Communications
Even before Thursday’s subpoenas, the committee was telegraphing an investigation aimed at the highest levels. On August 25, the select committee sent records requests to eight executive branch agencies, touting them at the time as part of a “sweeping” inquiry. “Our Constitution provides for a peaceful transfer of power, and this investigation seeks to evaluate threats to that process, identify lessons learned and recommend laws, policies, procedures, rules, or regulations necessary to protect our republic in the future,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said at the time.
The committee’s August requests last month went to the Justice Department, Department of Defense, FBI, Department of the Interior, Director of National Intelligence, Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the National Archives and Records Administration gave the agencies until September 9 to produce the requested materials. The committee did not respond to questions about whether it has begun receiving responses to those requests.
Among other things, those requests show the committee is investigating the communications various security agencies had with the White House and with each other. It is also examining personnel changes at some of those agencies, including the installation of Patel, a Trump loyalist who was placed at the Pentagon in the days after the election, and the firing of Homeland Security cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs, who loudly refuted Trump’s suggestion there was election fraud at play in his defeat. The committee also asked for records related to efforts to gather and share intelligence ahead of the attack, plans for security at the Capitol, and potential “modifications” to agencies ability to “monitor or report closed or non-public social media platforms” for intelligence about plans for demonstrations on January 6.
Those record requests also indicate the committee is looking beyond just the attack on January 6. The committee specifically requested records related to demonstrations against the election that were staged by Trump supporters in D.C. on November 14, 2020, December 12, 2020, and January 5 of this year. It also asked for documents related to attempts that Trump associates (including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and lawyer Sidney Powell) made to allege election fraud, as well documents related to efforts to solicit Justice Department intervention in multiple states.
The committee’s request to the Defense Department showed deep concerns about post-election violence and power grabs. It asked for documents related to “the potential use of military power to impede or ensure the peaceful transfer of power between the time of the November 3, 2020, election up through and including the inauguration” of President Biden. The panel also requested “all documents and communications” related to the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which outlines procedures for the vice president to take over for the president. In the aftermath of January 6, there were calls for former Vice President Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the amendment and remove Trump from office, including from Democratic members of Congress who argued it was justified since the former president “sought to undermine our democracy” and had fueled an “insurrection.”
The most interesting request sent by the committee last month went to the National Archives and Records Administration, a relatively obscure agency dedicated to the preservation of government records. In the request to NARA, the committee described some of its focus in detail and named over 100 individuals whose activities it has taken an interest in including top Trump administration officials, Trump campaign staff, members of the president’s family, and over 40 right wing activists. Bannon, Meadows, Scavino, and Patel were all named in that request as well.
In its August 25 letter to NARA, the committee also asked for “all documents and communications within the White House on January 6, 2021” related to, among other things, the demonstration at the Capitol, a nearby rally Trump appeared at on the national mall, and “any legal, political, or other strategy regarding the counting of electoral votes,” efforts to persuade the President to deliver any particular message to people at or near the Capitol.”
The request for White House records also included any from that day related to Trump, Pence, a slew of top staffers, the president’s oldest children and First Lady Melania Trump, and top associates including Giuliani and veteran campaign operative Roger Stone. The committee also asked for all White House visitor logs from January 6 and any documents and communications within the West Wing related to “any Member of Congress or congressional staff.”
The committee’s request to NARA wasn’t solely focused on January 6. In the letter to the archives and records administration, the committee also asked for documents related to “planning by the White House and others for legal or other strategies to delay, halt, or otherwise impede the electoral count” from April of last year through January 20, the day Biden was inaugurated. The committee also requested records related to the election results between White House officials and any state governments. Eight officials from Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and Texas were individually identified. Trump and his allies sought to falsely question or overturn Biden’s victories in Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia. Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, who was also individually named in the request, spoke along with Trump at the “Save America” rally on the national mall that preceded the storming of the Capitol building.
Based on the request to NARA, the committee is also investigating efforts from Trump’s allies to falsely allege election fraud and to litigate the results. The letter also asked for “all documents and communications to or from John Eastman” from election day last November through Biden’s inauguration January 20. Eastman represented Trump in one of the lawsuits that sought to overturn election results and authored a memo outlining a highly questionable — and wildly anti-democratic — legal scheme to have Pence overturn the election results at the Capitol on January 6.
The committee also requested a slew of records from the White House and government agencies related to “recruitment, planning, coordination, and other preparations for the rallies leading up to and including January 6th.” This included “all documents and communications concerning the 2020 election” from last April through Biden’s inauguration related to a list of over 40 conservative activists and members of prominent media outlets. Several were activists who obtained permits for pro-Trump in Washington on January 6 including “Stop The Steal” movement organizer Ali Alexander — who organized an event dubbed the “Wild Protest” outside the Capitol and who reportedly went “into hiding” after January 6 — and “Women For America First” founder Amy Kremer, whose group planned the “Save America” event on the mall. Alexander and Kremer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
While no members of Congress were individually named in the committee’s request to NARA, it did ask for documents and communications from within the White House with Tom Van Flein, the chief of staff to Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). Alexander, the “Wild Protest” organizer, has claimed that Gosar was one of three Republican House members who helped him plan the event. Van Flein and Alexander also participated in chats together on the audio app Clubhouse earlier this year. Gosar has been one of the most outspoken defenders of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.
On August 27, two days after its requests to the executive branch agencies, it sent requests to fifteen social media companies for “records related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election or prevent the certification of the results, domestic violent extremism, and foreign influence in the 2020 election.” The committee also requested copies of preservation requests the companies received or documents they may have provided with litigation or investigations related to the January 6 attack. Social media companies targeted by the committee included giants such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook — as well as with more obscure services favored by the right wing, including 8kun, 4chan, Gab, and Parler.
On August 30, the committee sent preservation orders to 35 different social media and telecom companies asking them to “preserve records relating to certain individuals who hold or have held accounts with your company from April 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021.” Rolling Stone obtained copies of these requests that show the companies involved but do not identify the individuals in question. However, according to CNN, this request included “phone records of a group of GOP members of Congress and former President Donald Trump, as well as members of the Trump family, who played some role in the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as the prelude to the Capitol insurrection.”
Copies of the orders obtained by Rolling Stone reveal that the 35 companies whose users have attracted the interest of the committee include the encrypted messaging services Protonmail, Telegram, and Signal. Services favored by right wing activists including Parler, Gab, and 8kun also received preservation requests, along with more mainstream services like Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Apple, AT&T, Sprint, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and AOL Mail.
The Fight Ahead
The committee’s intensifying efforts to collect information have been met with intensifying opposition from a Republican Party that has, nearly unanimously, closed ranks around Trump, even after his efforts to subvert the election.
The committee was established in July and has faced opposition from many in the GOP. Senate Republicans initially blocked a bipartisan proposal for a commission to investigate the events of January 6. That led to a largely party line House vote passing a resolution that called for Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to name members of a select committee with input from Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Ultimately, McCarthy recommended a group of five members that included some who had voted to overturn the election results. Pelosi rejected those picks and named only two Republicans, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a pair of Trump critics who were the only GOP members to vote to establish the committee.
Republican leaders have continued to fight the committee and seek to undercut its investigation. After the panel sent its requests to the tech companies, McCarthy issued a statement arguing that it would violate the law for companies to comply. He also issued an implied threat and suggested Republicans would “not forget” these companies if they regain the House majority. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy was subsequently revealed to be one of the Republican lawmakers targeted by the preservation orders.
And as the subpoenas dropped Thursday, top Republicans moved to full apoplexy. Taylor Budowich, Director of Communications for former President Trump and his post-White House political committee Save America, issued a statement to Rolling Stone based on the records requests. “The highly partisan, Communist-style ‘select committee’ has put forth an outrageously broad records request that lacks both legal precedent and legislative merit,” Budowich said, adding, “Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of President Trump and his administration, but also on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our nation.”
Trump himself issued a statement on the subpoenas, and called them “Harassment Subpoenas” while rehashing a familiar litany of his debunked claims about fraud during the election. Officials from multiple agencies in the former president’s own administration have confirmed the election was the most secure in American history and that there was no widespread fraud.
The committee’s success in accessing these high-level documents may depend in large part on the Biden White House. Trump’s team has asserted executive privilege in an effort to conceal communications. However, the committee got good news on Thursday morning when, before the subpoenas dropped, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration was leaning toward releasing information about Trump and the Jan. 6 attack.
On the other side of the aisle, reaction from lawmakers outside of the committee has been mixed. One senior Democratic Hill staffer suggested members and their aides are too preoccupied with a series of other impending crises to be thinking much about the committee. “Everyone is basically shitting their pants over the [Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill], the reconciliation, and the debt ceiling, and I feel like everyone forgot that this is even happening,” said the staffer, who requested anonymity to candidly assess the situation.
That staffer didn’t change their assessment after the subpoenas were announced and still predicted Congress would be unable to process the committee’s activity. “Being on The Hill right now is basically being in a fucking rave where you’re the sober one and everyone is too high,” the staffer said.
Another senior Democratic staffer, who also requested anonymity, had a different view. The second staffer suggested some Democrats see aggressively pursuing the investigation of January 6 as a core part of their strategy for holding on to the congressional minority in next year’s midterm elections.
“In the back of our heads, we see the route to a successful midterm as some combination of, ‘we’re delivering jobs, paid leave, and working on the pandemic, and these assholes are trying to overthrow the government,’” the staffer said. “For the members who are very politically minded, a lot of them think about not only the need to save the country from fascists, but the need to point out this particular contrast.”
While suggesting some members of congress are focused on the probe due to “politics,” the staffer also indicated they believe some care about “the substance” due to the fact they were terrified during the evacuation of January 6 and have to face continual reminders including developments in the investigation and Republican rallies in support of the rioters like the one that occurred on September 18.
“So many of them are still battle scarred from January 6,” the staffer said of the Democratic caucus. “And it’s not like they can forget about it when there’s a new thing every month that dredges it up.”
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