House investigators said Thursday they have issued subpoenas to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, an extraordinary step that has little precedent and is certain to further inflame partisan tensions over the 2021 attack.
The Jan. 6 panel’s subpoenas for McCarthy, R-Calif., and Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama come as the investigation is winding down and as the panel prepares for a series of public hearings this summer.
After the announcement, McCarthy, who aspires to be House speaker if Republicans take the majority in midterm elections, told reporters that “I have not seen a subpoena" and that his view on the committee has not changed since they asked for his voluntary cooperation earlier this year.
“They're not conducting a legitimate investigation,” McCarthy said. "Seems as though they just want to go after their political opponents.”
Similarly, Perry told reporters the investigation is a “charade” and said the subpoena is “all about headlines.”
Neither man said whether he would comply.
NBC News' requests for comments Thursday from Biggs, Brooks and Jordan were not immediately returned.
The committee has been investigating McCarthy’s conversations with then-President Donald Trump the day of the attack and meetings that the four other lawmakers had with the White House as Trump and his aides conspired how to overturn his defeat. They have been debating for months over whether to issue the subpoenas.
The panel, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, had previously asked for voluntary cooperation from the five lawmakers, along with a handful of other GOP members, but all of them refused to speak with the panel, which debated for months whether to issue the subpoenas.
Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel’s Republican vice chair, said the step wasn’t taken lightly. The unwillingness of the lawmakers to provide relevant information about the attack, she said, is “a very serious and grave situation.”
Congressional subpoenas for sitting members of Congress, especially for a party leader, are almost without precedent in recent decades. The panel had previously asked for voluntary cooperation from the five men, along with a handful of other GOP lawmakers, but all of them refused to speak with the panel.
“These members include those who participated in meetings at the White House, those who had direct conversations with President Trump leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol, and those who were involved in the planning and coordination of certain activities on and before January 6th,” the committee said as it announced the subpoenas.
“We recognize this is fairly unprecedented," said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other GOP member of the panel, after the committee announced the subpoenas. "But the Jan. 6 attack was very unprecedented.”
Kinzinger said it is "important for us to get every piece of information we possibly can.”
McCarthy has acknowledged that he spoke with Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, which happened as Trump’s supporters were beating police outside the Capitol and forcing their way into the building. But he has not shared many details. The committee requested information about his conversations with Trump “before, during and after” the riot.
McCarthy took to the House floor after the rioters were cleared and said in a forceful speech that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack and that it was the “saddest day I have ever had” in Congress — even as he went on to join 138 other House Republicans in voting to reject the election results.
The GOP leader soon made up with Trump, though, visiting him in Florida and rallying House Republicans to vote against investigations of the attack.
The other four men were in touch with the White House for several weeks ahead of the insurrection, talking to Trump and his legal advisers about ways to stop the congressional electoral count on Jan. 6 to certify Joe Biden's victory. Several of their efforts were detailed in texts released to the committee by Meadows, who was Trump's chief of staff at the time.
“These members include those who participated in meetings at the White House, those who had direct conversations with President Trump leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol, and those who were involved in the planning and coordination of certain activities on and before January 6th,” the committee said in a release.
The decision to ask for Brooks’ cooperation comes weeks after the Alabama Republican accused Trump of dropping an endorsement for him for a Senate seat after he rebuffed the former president’s entreaties to help overturn the 2020 election.
Trump “wanted the election rescinded and a do-over,” Brooks told reporters in March. “But there’s no legal way to do it.”
Brooks spoke at the rally that day before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, telling them, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” He has since become more critical of the former president, and the committee believes his insight into Trump's effort to involve members of Congress will be helpful to their investigation.
The committee's interest in Biggs is on the heels of an April 22 court filing in which lawmakers accused him of being an active participant in White House meetings after the 2020 election, where he and other Republicans brainstormed ways to keep Trump in power. Biggs is also accused of encouraging protesters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 as well as persuading state legislators and officials that the election was stolen.
In an interview last month, Biggs didn’t deny his public efforts to challenge the election results but called the recent reports about his deep involvement untrue. “I’ve seen my name. There were three articles today, and they were filled with untruths,” he told The Associated Press.
The panel also wants to question Jackson about his efforts, along with other GOP lawmakers, to barricade the doors of the House as rioters tried to breakthrough.
Additionally, Jackson, a former White House physician to two presidents, was mentioned in texts, retrieved by the committee, between members of the Oath Keepers as they and the rest of the violent mob descended on the Capitol building.
In one text, a member of the far-right militia group texted their leader, Stewart Rhodes, saying Jackson required their protection because “he has critical data to protect.”
“The exchanges above raise several specific questions for you,” the committee wrote to Jackson earlier this month. “Why would these individuals have an interest in your specific location? Why would they believe you ‘have critical data to protect?’ Why would they direct their members to protect your personal safety?”