By Michael Washburn
The Oct. 13 vote by the House Jan. 6 Committee to subpoena former President Donald Trump is a political ploy intended to help foster the general impression that Trump has too much “baggage” to run for office again, according to an analyst, who said the move also sought to convey that the party associated with Trump, and the candidates in the midterm elections whom he has endorsed, are not the right choice for the country.
The timing of the announcement cannot fail to arouse suspicion given how tight a number of the midterm races in key states have become, notably the senate contests in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, and Arizona, experts told The Epoch Times.
In the race in Pennsylvania between Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman, intensive media scrutiny has focused on the rapid closing of Fetterman’s once-comfortable lead. According to a Trafalgar Group poll conducted over the weekend, the race is now a toss-up with Oz enjoying the support of 44.8 percent and Fetterman commanding 47.2 percent, with the difference well within the margin of error.
The closely watched senate races in Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona are similarly competitive, according to the most recent polling.
But the prime target of the committee and its activities may be Trump’s 2024 ambitions, one expert believes.
“The purpose of the committee is clearly political—it is designed to block Mr. Trump from running for president in 2024,” Charles Steele, chair of the department of economics, business, and accounting at Hillsdale College in Michigan, told The Epoch Times.
Though of course the thought processes guiding members of the committee who voted to issue the subpoena are known only to themselves, Steele does not see evidence rising to the level of certainty of intentions on Trump’s part to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“It isn’t possible to know exactly what the Jan. 6 committee intends by subpoenaing former President Trump. They have no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part, or they would have announced it,” Steele said.
“My suspicion is that they hope to set a trap in some way in order to cook up some charges so they can recommend Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice to start a criminal prosecution,” he added.
Steele sees a marked disconnect between the committee’s ostensible purpose as a nonpartisan fact-gathering body and its actual function. It has crossed the line into activity reminiscent of the targeting of political opposition under authoritarian regimes, Steele believes.
“The Jan. 6 committee is not a normal Congressional fact-finding committee. The proceedings appear to be more like a presentation from a prosecution, and in fact it reminds me of Soviet show trials. The committee is made up entirely of anti-Trump members of Congress, who have stated that it is a foregone conclusion that Trump and his administration are guilty,” he said.
What makes this analogy particularly apt is the procedurally skewed nature of the committee’s actions, which preclude an opportunity to question or argue against the supposed legal basis for the subpoena.
“There is no presentation of evidence to the contrary and no opportunity for a defense. The security camera footage from the Capitol is suppressed, except for a few carefully selected excerpts. It’s simply a Soviet-style tribunal where the outcome is predetermined by politics, so far as I can see. The way the Jan. 6 committee members have conducted themselves is shameful and a very dangerous episode in American politics,” Steele added.
Some legal experts do see at least the possibility of legal violations on Trump’s part, but the question of whether the committee can enforce its subpoena is a complicated one. In the unusual circumstance of a federal body taking action against an official not during his tenure in office but after he has returned to civilian life, both the committee and Trump have a range of options in the weeks and months to come, the experts say.
In the view of Mark Graber, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, it is possible that Trump may have broken the law or at least have information pertinent to what happened on Jan. 6. But the issue of whether the committee will be able to compel Trump to testify breaks down into two basic questions, he said.
Here Graber invoked the 1997 Supreme Court ruling in Clinton v. Jones, which found that a current president can be sued in civil court. In determining how far the Jan. 6 committee’s authority extends, it is useful to extrapolate from this case, Graber suggested.
“‘Will they be able to get him to testify?’ has two dimensions. The first is legal. Can a former president be forced to testify about possible crimes he and his associates committed? I think that Clinton v. Jones is the authority here. If you can sue a president while the president is in office, the president has no immunity from testifying about actions taken in office, where the argument is that these actions were not taken in furtherance of official duties,” Graber said.
But the timing of the vote, again, raises questions.
“The second dimension is political. I presume that if the GOP wins the 2022 midterms, the committee will be dissolved along with the subpoena,” Graber said.
In agreement with Graber on this point is Eugene Mazo, a professor at Seton Hall University Law School.
Mazo does not think that Trump will respond passively to the committee’s latest move. Much depends on the outcome of the midterm races, he said.
“I think Trump will initiate litigation to try to run out the clock on the Jan. 6 committee. If Republicans take over the House on Jan. 3, 2023, he will no longer have to testify. Or he may try to negotiate something like the deal that Ginny Thomas had, where his testimony will be scripted, limited, and behind closed doors. These will be lots of lawyering here, for sure, to seek as much delay as possible,” Mazo said.
On Oct. 14, Trump responded to the subpoena with a 15-page letter blasting the committee for what he said was its staging of a “Show Trial the likes of which this Country has never seen before,” but declining to give an answer about whether he would appear before the committee in accordance with the subpoena.