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Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Trump's former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

After weeks of calling for former White House counsel Pat Cipollone to cooperate, the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol finally issued a subpoena for him last night. The committee is asking Cipollone to appear for a deposition next week. And the subpoena comes the day after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson offered startling testimony under oath. She recounted how Cipollone tried repeatedly to block former President Trump's efforts to disrupt the electoral count to formally elect President Joe Biden. NPR correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Why this subpoena only issued now, Sue?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, it looks like the committee tried to do it the easy way. And now they're going to do it the hard way, you know? Cipollone has spoken with them. He appeared voluntarily in an informal capacity back in April. But in a letter to Cipollone, the committee says he has refused all efforts to cooperate since then. And he's refused to provide any on-the-record testimony. So they say they were left with no other choice. Now, Cipollone hasn't responded to the subpoena. It's not clear if he will actually appear. But defying a congressional subpoena could open the door to possible legal action against him if he chose that.

MARTINEZ: All right. So what do they want to ask Cipollone about?

DAVIS: Well, the committee says he has direct knowledge of President Trump's involvement in a lot of efforts to subvert the 2020 election, including trying to submit fake ballots to Congress, trying to politicize the Justice Department and, of course, the president's role on the Capitol attack. In her testimony on Tuesday, Hutchinson repeatedly invoked Cipollone's name. She testified under oath that he was a key figure inside the White House trying to stop Trump from going to the Capitol on January 6. Now, Trump did not go to the Capitol on January 6. She said he asked her to help make sure it didn't happen, saying, quote, "we're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen." She also testified that Cipollone pleaded with Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to do more to stop the violence once the riot at the Capitol was underway.

MARTINEZ: Now haven't other people who have testified before the committee also offered testimony on Cipollone's actions right around the time?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, former Justice Department officials testified that he backed up their efforts to block Trump from appointing Jeffrey Clark to run the department. Clark was willing to illegally try to aid Trump's efforts to overturn the election from there. And former campaign aide Jason Miller testified that Cipollone also confronted Trump lawyer John Eastman over his theory that Vice President Pence had the authority to stop the electoral count. He did not have that authority. And Cipollone said it was crazy.

MARTINEZ: So it seems to me that this paints a picture of someone who tried to uphold the law and tell the president to do the same. Why resist, then, cooperating with the committee?

DAVIS: That has certainly been the view of Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She's the panel's co-chair. She has said publicly that the committee's evidence shows that Cipollone and his office tried to do, quote, "the right thing." She also said she thinks the public should hear it from him directly. You know, there are probably some questions here about executive privilege, attorney-client privilege and the kind of things he can be compelled to say or not say. If he engages with the committee, it's possible he might not appear next week. But they could schedule it at a later date. This might take some lawyering.

But really, this is not about Pat Cipollone. This is about Donald Trump. I mean, the committee has been building a very public, very provocative case that a sitting president tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power. And they've also relied really heavily on Republican witnesses to make their case. I mean, Trump's White House counsel, who was there for all of it, would be able to provide valuable insight into the president's state of mind and his intentions at the time.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR correspondent Susan Davis. Susan, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.