WASHINGTON (AP). This is a risky move by President Joe Biden that could haunt him – and future presidents – again in the hyper-partisan world of Washington politics.
Democrat Biden has agreed to a Congressional request for confidential information about the actions of his predecessor Donald Trump and his aides during the January 6 uprising, although the former president claims that this information is protected by executive privileges.
Biden’s move is not the last word; Republican Trump says he will dispute the requests, and this information is likely to lead to a lengthy legal battle. Courts have ruled that former presidents are granted executive privileges in some cases.
But the rules of the game for the legal world are different from the political world. And in the political world, “every time a president does something controversial, it becomes a building block for future presidents,” said Sikrishna Prakash, a University of Virginia law professor who studies presidential powers.
Biden’s decision not to block information requested by Congress defies a tried and tested norm for presidents to maintain the secrecy of their own terms of office, both mundane and highly confidential, for at least five years, and often much longer. … This means Biden and future presidents, as well as Trump.
Although not written into the constitution, the executive power privilege was designed to protect the president’s ability to obtain overt advice from his advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure, and to protect his confidential communications regarding official duties.
But this privilege has its limitations in emergencies, as was demonstrated during the Watergate scandal, when the Supreme Court ruled that it should not be used to cover up the release of secret Oval Office tapes wanted by criminal investigations and after the 9/11 attacks. attacks.
The January 6 uprising is one of those ranks, ”wrote Biden’s White House adviser to the custodian of the records, the archivist of the United States. An armed crowd of Trump supporters stormed the building in an attempt to obstruct the witnessing of Biden’s election victory.
“This committee is investigating a dark day in our democracy – an attempt by the former president to undermine our constitution and democratic processes – and that context, I think, is important here,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki of the congress. the group is looking for records.
Some experts believe that the argument that the special circumstances of the attack justify an emergency release should protect against the erosion of executive privileges for future presidential positions.
“By increasing how extraordinary and extreme it is, it limits the precedent for the future,” said Jonathan Schaub, associate professor of law at the J. David Rosenberg College of Law at the University of Kentucky and a former counselor in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Obama administration.
But these other exceptions took place in a world before Trump, where there were clear customs and norms and, as a rule, one set of facts. Much of the country today believes Trump’s lies that he is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, even though there is no conclusive evidence to back up his claims of massive fraud, and Trump and his allies have worked hard to reevaluate events 6 January, so that the rioters become patriotic warriors.
Historically speaking, once the door to viewing past presidential records is ajar, future Congresses and presidents can open it even further, if so required by politics.
This is the path followed by other Washington norms in an increasingly vicious capital. In 2013, Democrats used the so-called nuclear option to eliminate a pirate who would have required 60 votes to approve a majority of presidential appointments and nominations, but retained it for legislation and Supreme Court elections. In 2017, when the Republicans took control of Washington, they went further and, over the years of Trump’s rule, put three judges in the high court by a simple majority.
Presidents tend to defend their ability to keep White House documents secret, both for themselves and for their predecessors. But any move by the White House to reject a request from Congress to report on Trump’s activities could upset Democratic lawmakers just when Biden needs their backing to push his agenda forward.
The documents, requested by a congressional committee, are part of a lengthy and controversial investigation into how the mafia was able to infiltrate the Capitol on January 6 and thwart assurances of Biden’s presidential victory in the worst attack on Congress in two centuries. More than 630 people have been prosecuted for the assault, the largest prosecution in U.S. history.
Thousands of documents were requested from the Trump administration to determine how the uprising could have happened. Many of these requests were sent to the National Archives, which contains Trump’s correspondence during his tenure.
Under the Presidential Archives Ordinance, the United States archivist “must comply with any instructions given to him by the incumbent president or his appointee, unless otherwise specified in a final court order.”
“Congress is considering an attack on our Constitution and democratic institutions, provoked and exaggerated by those who have vowed to defend them,” White House adviser Dana Remus wrote in a letter to the archivist. “Constitutional protection of executive privileges should not be used to shield information from Congress or the public that reflects overt and obvious attempts to undermine the Constitution itself.”
Trump responded with his own letter to the National Archives, in which he officially confirmed the ownership of more than 50 documents.
Referring to the Presidential Records Act, Trump wrote: “I hereby make a defensive statement of constitutional privilege over all additional records.” He said that if the committee asks for other information, it considers confidential information: “I will take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect the office of the president.”