Former President Donald Trump will have to decide how to handle the subpoena that the House Jan. 6 committee voted to issue to him Thursday, though as vice chair of the committee Rep. Liz Cheney pointed out, he’s not the first president or former president to. The committee is demanding documents and testimony under oath from Trump, because it has concluded it was Trump who was at the center of the assault on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
On April 11, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first-ever sitting president to be subpoenaed by a congressional committee, as the House Judiciary Committee sought material related to an impeachment inquiry against him. Nixon turned over transcripts and conversations, but the committee believed he wasn’t being completely forthright.
By 1974, Congress had already subpoenaed former presidents.
In 1846, a congressional committee issued subpoenas to former Presidents John Quincy Adams and John Tyler, as a part of an investigation into whether Daniel Webster, when he was secretary of state, had improperly dispersed money from a secret contingency fund for foreign operations. Tyler testified, but Adams filed a deposition, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Shortly after he left office, Harry S. Truman refused to honor a 1953 subpoena issued by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), according to New York Times archives. HUAC was the committee that carried out a hunt for communists in America, accusing U.S. officials, Hollywood figures and others of being traitors to the nation during the Cold War. It was accused of abusing civil liberties and was ultimately abolished in 1975. In response to the subpoena, Truman claimed he had immunity, just like a sitting president.
Trump’s his first response to the subpoena was to mock the committee that issued it.
“Why didn’t the Unselect Committee ask me to testify months ago?” Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Why did they wait until the very end, the final moments of their last meeting? Because the Committee is a total ‘BUST’ that has only served to further divide our Country which, by the way, is doing very badly – A laughing stock all over the World?”
He has not yet said what his formal response will be. Some of his allies have refused to comply with subpoenas, including top aides Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, who were charged with contempt of Congress. Bannon was convicted and is expected to be sentenced later this month.