Almost immediately after the House Jan. 6 committee announced it would subpoena Doanld Trump, the ex-president began telling people close to him that he’d love to testify before the congressional panel — if he got to do it on live television. Even the idea of it sent Trump’s advisers scrambling to convince him it would be a disaster.
“Absolutely fucking not,” one of Trump’s advisers on legal matters tells Rolling Stone, succinctly summarizing the advice they gave Trump regarding Capitol Hill testimony — televised or otherwise.
Several of Trump’s attorneys and political counselors have directly told the ex-president this month that any testimony under oath before that panel would be an awful idea for him, according to this source and two other people with knowledge of the matter. The advisers cautioned Trump that committee members would mine his testimony for potential perjury charges, particularly given Trump’s penchant for lying.
“It is my hope that we talked him out of it,” one of the people says. “The [former] president seemed receptive to our arguments against [it], but with Donald Trump, it can be hard to tell [sometimes] what has actually sunk in or stuck.”
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
“I don’t think any lawyer who truly has Trump’s best interests, and is not merely following Trump’s orders, at heart could — in his or her right mind — advise him to testify before the Jan. 6 committee,” says Ty Cobb, a former top Trump White House attorney during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “It is clear that testifying would be a bad idea, as highlighted by the fact that his initial reaction to the subpoena included a multi-page screed where he repeated the completely discredited theories of the Big Lie,” Cobb adds. “I would like to believe his lawyers did not see that before it went out, but whether they did or didn’t, each scenario is scary.”
The Mueller team sought an interview with the then-president, though the special counsel declined to issue a subpoena. Trump initially claimed he was open to a sit-down, only to be promptly advised by numerous aides and attorneys that doing so would be an obvious “perjury trap.” An interview never happened.
Asked if he agrees with Trump’s advisers that his testimony before the congressional committee would be a “perjury trap,” Cobb replies: “That is absolutely true…[and] Trump is uniquely susceptible to that because he is so easily provoked.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to bait the former president in a recent MSNBC interview, musing that “I don’t think he’s man enough to show up. I don’t think his lawyers will want him to show up because he has to testify under oath.”
In public, Trump has greeted the idea of a live testimony showdown with enthusiasm and shared a Fox News piece claiming the former president “loves the idea of testifying” both on his Truth Social account and his personal website.
It’s unclear whether the committee would indulge Trump’s offer to testify live, but Rep. Liz Cheney has already voiced her opposition to letting the former president “turn this into a circus” and a “food fight.” Any testimony from Trump would have to “be done with a level of rigor and discipline and seriousness that it deserves,” the Republican congresswoman said in a Sunday appearance on Meet The Press.
Some witnesses, like former Trump aides Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon, have sought to fight subpoenas from the committee through open defiance, earning Bannon a four month prison sentence and Navarro an indictment for contempt of Congress.
Others have chosen a more careful route. Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania Republican running for governor in the state, sued Nancy Pelosi and the committee to quash a subpoena to him over his role in attempting to organize a slate of bogus Pennsylvania electors for Trump and his presence outside the Capitol on January 6. Mastriano’s suit was filed by Tim Parlatore, a member of Trump’s legal team, and the suit offers a potential window into how the former president might fight the committee.
In a complaint filed in September, Parlatore argued that the committee’s subpoena is unenforceable because the committee lacks a ranking minority member designated by Republicans. That absence, Mastriano’s suit claims, violates House rules and makes its subpoenas.