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Jan. 6 panel subpoenas a Trump ally who promised to pursue his election fraud claims

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Today marks the first deadline for four former Trump administration officials to appear before a House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It's not clear, though, if any of the witnesses will actually show. Now, the panel is threatening to issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department for those who do not cooperate. This all comes a day after the panel issued a new subpoena for a former Trump justice official, Jeffrey Clark, who promised to look into false election fraud allegations. For more on this, we're joined now by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Claudia, so these Trump administration officials, who are they that the committee is expecting to hear from?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yes. These are four former officials. And they were expecting to hear from at least two of them today. That's former strategist Steve Bannon and an ex-Defense Department official, Kash Patel. They were supposed to be followed by testimony tomorrow from ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House aide Dan Scavino. Now, we should note this is the first test for the panel on a wave of subpoenas issued trying to investigate this January 6 attack on the Capitol.

MARTINEZ: What are those witnesses saying so far?

GRISALES: So so far, the committee is telling us that they're engaged in talks with at least Meadows and Patel so far. Now, through a spokeswoman, Patel said he's keeping matters confidential after saying he received death threats after he was served with his subpoena. So for now, his spokesperson could not confirm if he'll ultimately testify. Now, on Scavino, the committee faced a delay locating him. But he was finally served with his subpoena last week. And he says also, any reports he was trying to evade it are false. Meanwhile, Bannon, through an attorney, told the committee that he is shielded by executive privilege and will not be cooperating.

So it seems all these witnesses are in a holding pattern right now as they sort out this argument of executive privilege and whether it really does shield them from testifying before this committee. So ultimately, if that argument does not win out, the committee has threatened to move forward with criminal referrals for these former officials. That would go to the Justice Department. It could lead to fines or jail time. Or there could be other options. But it remains to be seen whether these avenues can be pursued quickly under the new Biden administration. Or they could face these protracted legal battles we've seen in the past when it comes to demands for congressional testimony.

MARTINEZ: On executive privilege, has the Biden White House said anything?

GRISALES: They have when it comes to the documents. The White House says executive privilege has not shielded these Trump-era records from being handed over to the committee so far from the National Archives. And they reiterated that stance again last night with a new letter that was released.

MARTINEZ: One more thing. The committee - tell us so why the committee wants to hear from Jeffrey Clark, the ex-DOJ official.

GRISALES: Yes. Clark was a key figure in a recent Senate report detailing Trump's attempts to enlist the department in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election of President Biden. A Senate Judiciary Committee reports that Clark had proposed delivery of a letter to Georgia state lawmakers and others to push for a delay certifying the election results there. Also, Clark recommended holding a press conference announcing the Justice Department was investigating these allegations of voter fraud, despite any evidence that such fraud was present. And of course, these plans were all rejected by top leaders at the agency. That all said, Chairman Bennie Thompson has told Clark and others that they need to understand his role in these efforts at the Justice Department. And they're now directing him to produce these records and testify by the end of the month.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.