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Trump files suit to avoid subpoena from House panel probing US Capitol riot

Lawyer for former US president argues ‘long-held precedent and practice’ prohibit Congress from compelling him to testify

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to members of the media outside Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center after voting on Election Day, November 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former US president Donald Trump speaks to members of the media outside Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center after voting on Election Day, November 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former US president Donald Trump is suing the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to avoid cooperating with a subpoena requiring him to testify.

The suit filed Friday evening contends that, while former presidents have voluntarily agreed to provide testimony or documents in response to congressional subpoenas in the past, “no president or former president has ever been compelled to do so.”

“Long-held precedent and practice maintain that separation of powers prohibits Congress from compelling a President to testify before it,” Trump attorney David A. Warrington said in a statement announcing Trump’s intentions.

Warrington said Trump had engaged with the committee “in a good faith effort to resolve these concerns consistent with Executive Branch prerogatives and separation of powers,” but said the panel “insists on pursuing a political path, leaving President Trump with no choice but to involve the third branch, the judicial branch, in this dispute between the executive and legislative branches.”

The committee declined to comment on the filing, which comes days before the the deadline set by the committee for Trump to begin cooperating. But the suit likely dooms the prospect of Trump ever having to testify, given that the committee is expected to disband at the end of the legislative session in January.

It also comes just days before Trump is expected to formally launch a third campaign for president at his Mar-Lago club.

The committee had voted to subpoena Trump during its final televised hearing before the midterm elections and formally did so last month, demanding testimony from the former president either at the Capitol or by videoconference by mid-November, and continuing for multiple days if necessary.

A video of then-US president Donald Trump speaking is displayed as the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 13, 2022. (Alex Wong/Pool Photo via AP)

The letter also outlined a sweeping request for documents, including personal communications between Trump and members of Congress as well as extremist groups. Trump’s response to that request was due last week, but the nine-member panel extended its deadline to this week.

In his suit, Trump’s attorneys attack the subpoena as overly broad and frame it as an infringement of his First Amendment rights. They also argue other sources besides Trump could provide the same information the committee wants from him.

The panel — comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans — issued a statement last week saying it was in communication with Trump’s attorneys.

The committee’s decision to subpoena Trump in late October was a major escalation in its investigation, a step lawmakers said was necessary because, members allege, the former president was the “central player” in a multi-part effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“I think that he has a legal obligation to testify but that doesn’t always carry weight with Donald Trump,” committee vice chair Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said during an event last week.

Insurrectionists loyal to then-US president Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the US Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. (Julio Cortez/AP)

In addition to demanding that Trump testify, the committee also made 19 requests for documents and communication — including for any messages Trump sent on the encrypted messaging app Signal or by “any other means” to members of Congress and others about the stunning events of the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

The scope of the committee’s request was expansive — pursuing documents from September 1, 2020, two months before the election, to the present on the president’s communications with the groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as the panel looks to compile a historical record of the run-up to the Capitol attack, the event itself and the aftermath.

Trump’s lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida, where other Trump lawyers successfully sued to secure a special master who has been tasked with conducting an independent review of records seized by the FBI during an August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.

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