Although President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey this week, the agency is still investigating members of the Trump administration and former campaign officials for any possible ties to Russia during the 2016 election. Earlier this year, Trump's former national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, resigned after allegedly holding meetings with Russian diplomats before he was officially in a capacity to do so and later misleading Vice President Mike Pence on the matter. Now, Flynn has been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a probe into the administration's potential Russian connections. So what is a subpoena anyway and does it mean anything that they're using it to demand documents from Flynn?
Here's how it works: Traditionally, a subpoena is simply a document that informs someone that they have to show up for a deposition or testify as a witness in a criminal or civil trial. A subpoena may also demand documents from a specific party in the process of an investigation, which is what happened to Flynn. The Senate Intelligence Committee has specifically subpoenaed documents from Flynn that they think might be pertinent to their investigation. Usually, subpoenas come from prosecutors, but the Intelligence Committee has a special subpoena power.
But just because Flynn has been subpoenaed for documents regarding the FBI's investigation into the administration's ties to Russia, it doesn't mean that he's done anything wrong — it just means that the investigators think he might have or know something that could be useful to them.
Usually, prosecutors or a grand jury ask for cooperation before going with a subpoena. More than anything else, the subpoena is merely a way to make cooperating with an investigation mandatory — often, if someone doesn't comply with a subpoena, there could be legal consequences, as it's often the last recourse for the court to make someone comply.
In late April, the committee requested the documents from Flynn, but he declined to cooperate unless he was offered immunity, depending on how the committee would proceed after they gathered all of their evidence. But that wasn't going to happen, so the committee took the more drastic measure.
This subpoena is a particularly big deal, since the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't used its subpoena since the inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and, according to NBC News, this is the first time it's subpoenaed documents since the 1970s. Flynn and the Trump administration are definitely making history on a whole bunch of levels.
This entire investigation has not been easy for Trump's people, Flynn specifically. Last week, testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates revealed that she and President Obama had warned then President-elect Trump that Flynn could have conflicts of interest when it came to Russia, but Trump hired him anyway (Flynn resigned less than a month after the inauguration, under pressure from the White House and other parties). Flynn's request for immunity in late April was pretty standard, but his lack of compliance despite being refused an offer, and this week's subpoenas, don't look good.
Now that Flynn has to comply with a subpoena, it's possible the Intelligence Committee, and the American people, might finally learn something about what actually happened between Russian officials and the Trump administration. Whatever the case, it's definitely thrown yet another wrench in the works.