Capitol assault probe wants testimony from top Republican

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 18. AFP

The Congressional committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol requested testimony on January 12 from top Republican lawmaker Kevin McCarthy, seeking information on his calls with Donald Trump.

The request from the Democrat-led January 6 Select Committee set up a potential clash with McCarthy, the House minority leader who communicated with then-president Trump at the moment hundreds of his supporters violently stormed the Capitol a year ago, forcing lawmakers and the vice president to flee to safety.

The committee said McCarthy had been in contact with Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows in the days before the attack, when Trump and aides were planning an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the next president on January 6, 2021.

“We also must learn about how the president’s plans for January 6th came together, and all the other ways he attempted to alter the results of the election,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson said in a letter to McCarthy.

In addition, Thompson said, “You have acknowledged speaking directly with the former President while the violence was underway.”

In the attack, hundreds of Trump backers forced their way into the Capitol, halting the certification of Biden’s election victory over Trump, and forcing Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over Congress, into hiding.

Thompson’s committee is examining if Trump and his advisors encouraged or even plotted the violence.

After January 6, McCarthy told media that he had tried to discourage the effort to block certification, had a “heated” phone conversation with Trump on the day of the attack, and that Trump had at one point accepted some responsibility for it.

“All of this information bears directly on President Trump’s state of mind during the January 6th attack as the violence was underway,” the letter to McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who after the attack criticised Trump but has since resumed his support for the former president, had no immediate response to the letter.

The committee has issued subpoenas to key figures who refused to testify voluntarily, and referred charges of contempt to the Justice Department on two who still refused, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and the chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

But it was unclear whether the committee would go so far with a senior member of Congress.

It asked McCarthy to testify during the first two weeks of February.