WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will not block a tranche of documents demanded by a House committee investigation into the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol, setting off a showdown with former President Donald Trump, who has tried to keep records from his time. promised to do. From being handed over to investigators at the White House.
In a letter to the United States Archivist, White House counsel Dana Remus writes that Biden has determined that invoking executive privilege is “not in the best interest of the United States.” It comes days after Trump’s lawyers sought to block the testimony of former Trump officials on a House committee, citing executive privilege. On Friday, a lawyer for Steve Bannon said the former White House aide would not comply with a House committee investigation because of Trump’s claim.
In August, the House committee investigating the January uprising at the Capitol asked for a trove of records, including communications within the White House under Trump and information about planning and funding for rallies held in Washington. Among those events was a rally near the White House that featured remarks from Trump, drawing on a crowd of thousands before loyalists stormed the Capitol.
In the letter, Remus writes that the documents were reviewed “to shed light on events within the White House and about January 6, and to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on federal government operations since the Civil Select Committee.” The need is based on the war.”
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Friday, which was first reported by NBC News.
Copies of the documents that responded to the request were handed over to Biden’s White House and Trump’s lawyers to review potential executive privilege concerns in accordance with federal law and the executive order governing the president’s records.
The committee’s 10-page request for archives called for “all documents and communications within the White House on January 6, 2021” relating to Trump’s close advisers and family members, a rally on the nearby Ellipse, and Trump’s Twitter feed. Has been. It calls for his specific activities that day and communication, if any, from the White House Situation Room. Along with the claims of electoral fraud, all documents related to the Supreme Court’s decisions on the subject have also been sought.
Biden’s decision affects only the initial batch of documents reviewed by the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said subsequent determinations would be made on a case-by-case basis.
The incumbent president has final authority unless a court orders the archives to take a different action. Trump has not formally sought to impose executive privileges on the documents, although that action is expected soon.
Trump is expected to take legal action to block the release of the documents, which, if granted, would be a dramatic extension of unwritten executive power. Trump will have an uphill battle, as the courts have traditionally left questions of executive privilege occupied by the current White House — although challenges from the former president may delay the committee’s investigation.
Two other witnesses summoned by the panel, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon aide Kash Patel, are “engaged” with the committee, according to its Democratic chairman Mississippi Representative Benny Thompson and Republican vice president, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Thompson and Cheney issued a statement Friday after the document submission deadline had passed.
“While the Select Committee welcomes goodwill engagement with witnesses wishing to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to disobey a valid subpoena or attempt to run the clock, and we will speed up Congressional referrals.” Will consider pursuing criminal contempt of court,” the two MPs said.
A spokesman for the panel declined to comment on the condition of the fourth witness, former Trump communications aide Dan Scavino.
Bannon’s move sets the stage for a possible confrontation with House Democrats, who are probing the roles of Trump and his aides in the riots, when a large crowd of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol as Congress ratified the results. Was. The presidential election was won by Democrat Joe Biden. The committee is increasingly issuing summons to individuals who are either associated with Trump or who helped plan the massive rally on the morning of January 6, at which he told his supporters to “fight like hell”. .
Bannon’s refusal to comply, and a resolution to prosecute Trump’s testimony, would mean some delay in the panel’s investigation. But committee members, many of whom served as prosecutors on Trump’s two impeachments, were up to the possibility and repeatedly threatened to accuse witnesses of contempt. Trump often successfully contested the testimony of witnesses during his presidency, but now he may be legally stronger by being out of office.
A committee effort to charge witnesses with contempt would include a full House vote and a referral to the Justice Department. Then it will be up to the justice how to proceed with the charges.
Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, said in a letter to the panel dated October 7 that until the privilege issues are resolved, “we are unable to respond to your requests for documents and testimony.”
Costello wrote that Bannon, a former Trump aide who had contact with him in the week of the Capitol attack, is ready to “follow the directions of the courts” as they rule on the issue.
The letter includes excerpts from a separate letter sent to Bannon by Trump’s lawyer, Justin Clark. Clark says documents and testimony provided to the January 6 panel may include information that is “potentially protected from disclosure by executive and other privileges, including other presidential communications, deliberative processes and attorney client privileges.” Are included.”
Clarke wrote to Bannon that “President Trump stands ready to defend these fundamental privileges in court.”
Trump spokesmen did not return messages seeking comment. Trump said in a statement last month that he would “fight subpoenas on executive privilege and other grounds for the good of our country.”
Bannon summoned on September 23 is the only one of the top Trump aides who was not working for the Trump administration on January 6. It is not clear whether it will affect their position if the matter goes to the courts.
Patel said in a statement that he would “continue to tell the American people the truth about January 6” but did not say whether he would follow through. An associate of Scavino and Meadows did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The issue could get even more complicated as Trump is no longer in office. As a former president, he cannot directly claim the privilege of keeping witnesses silent or keeping documents out of the hands of Congress. As the current president, Biden will have a say in the matter.
The select committee to investigate the January 6 attacks has issued more than a dozen summons to people linked to the plans for the January 6th protests, including three additional witnesses announced on Thursday. Those individuals would be less likely to be helped by Trump’s claims of executive privilege, as they did not work for the White House and most of them did not have regular contact with Trump.
Committee chairman Thompson said additional summons were to Ali Abdul Akbar, also known as Ali Alexander, and Nathan Martin to learn more about a rally held at Capitol grounds near the “Stop the Steel” organization. was to. At the same time as the big gathering on the National Mall. The committee had earlier summoned 11 other people associated with the planning of the big rally.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Ben Fox and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.