But the committee also has plenty of unfinished business. Time and again, it has made splashy announcements about its subpoenas or requests for testimony aimed at well-placed, high-profile subjects. With the exception of Steve Bannon, who was held in contempt and indicted, many of those people have casually brushed off the committee, which has, thus far, done nothing publicly in response. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see whether the committee intends to pursue these powerful individuals for their testimony, or whether they will quietly slink away and hope nobody notices.
The committee has issued subpoenas to Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis, Trump’s former attorneys who spewed lies about election fraud and devised plans to interfere with the proper counting of electoral votes by Congress on January 6. These members of the self-titled legal “Elite Strike Force,” who also routinely got thrashed in the courts, have responded to the committee’s subpoenas with a combination of silence and defiance. (A lawyer for Giuliani called the subpoena “political theater” and said Giuliani would be covered by executive privilege; beyond a joking tweet, it seems Ellis hasn’t publicly responded. Powell’s attorney, meanwhile, said that she would appear before the House Select Committee.)
While the committee has held other witnesses who refused to testify in contempt — Bannon now faces criminal prosecution for contempt of Congress, for which he’s pleaded not guilty, and the DOJ continues to consider whether to charge former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — it has made no countermove yet toward Giuliani or the other lawyers.
Ivanka Trump received an official request from the committee to testify as well. In a non-responsive statement, her spokesperson shrugged that the committee already knows she did not speak at the January 6 rally and implied she had nothing much to offer beyond her public statement that day anyway. The former President whined that the committee will “go after children;” Ivanka Trump is 40 years old and served as senior adviser to the President. The committee has done nothing in response to compel her testimony. It hasn’t even upped the ante to a formal subpoena.
And then there’s the matter of the committee members’ own colleagues in Congress. The committee believes Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan and Scott Perry all have vital information about the January 6 attack. All three were involved in spreading the big lie of the election fraud before January 6 and McCarthy and Jordan were in direct contact with Trump on that fateful day. Yet all three congressmen have angrily denied the committee information. McCarthy called the committee’s investigation “illegitimate;” Jordan said he has “no relevant information;” and Perry declined the committee’s request. The committee has remained silent about what, if anything, it will do next.
Whatever happened to Jeffrey Clark, the former DOJ official who tried to push Trump’s election fraud lie from inside the Justice Department? The committee moved to hold him in contempt last year after he appeared for an interview but refused to answer certain questions or hand over documents. (Clark’s attorney provided the panel with a 12-page letter refusing nearly every question on the grounds that Trump was entitled to confidential legal advice.) But the committee decided to give him a second chance to appear for an interview before sending the contempt matter to the full House for a vote. Clark’s second interview was then postponed because of medical issues and now nearly two months later: nothing.
In all of these instances, the committee faces a stark choice: Play hardball or give up. If it’s truly committed to learning the full truth, it will subpoena each target, hold those who continue to stonewall in contempt and send them to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
Time is a key factor here. Committee members have said they intend to hold public hearings in early 2022 and issue at least a draft report by around midyear. And if Republicans take control of the House after the upcoming midterms, the committee’s work likely will come to an end. It would take some time for the committee to pursue these recalcitrant subjects in Congress and potentially in the courts — and the clock is ticking.
But the committee has done no such thing yet, for the vast majority of the people discussed above. Perhaps it has calculated that (despite its own fiery rhetoric when it initially sought testimony from these key players) it’s simply not worth costly legal and political battles to compel their testimony or to impose punishment. But if the committee fails to follow up its words with meaningful action, then it will show that, at least when it comes pursuing truth from powerful, well-connected people, it’s more bark than bite.