Joe Biden has blocked an attempt by former US President Donald Trump to withhold congressional documents regarding the January 6 uprising in the US capital.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden authorized the National Archives, a government agency that keeps records of Trump’s tenure, to hand over a first batch of documents requested by a House of Representatives committee investigating riots.
“The president is dedicated to ensuring that such a thing never happens again, and therefore the administration is cooperating with ongoing investigations,” Psaki told reporters. “The President has determined that an allegation of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents from the Trump White House that have been provided to us by the National Archives.”
A crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to prevent certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, resulting in five deaths. More than 600 people are now facing criminal charges as a result of riots.
In August, a House committee investigating the uprising requested various records, including communications in the White House under Trump, his movements and communications that day, and information on planning and funding for rallies in Washington.
Trump’s legal team tried to divert some of the requests by invoking executive privilege, a legal doctrine that protects the confidentiality of some communications between White House officials.
But in a letter to the U.S. Archivist, White House adviser Dana Remus wrote, “these are unique and extraordinary circumstances,” and the documents “shed light on the events in the White House on January 6 and around and affect the Select Committee’s need for to understand the facts that underlie the most serious attack on the federal government’s operations since the Civil War ”.
The decision, which only affects the first batch of documents reviewed by the White House, creates a potential showdown with Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the events of January 6 and tried to rework the riots as “patriots.” The Guardian reported that he plans to sue to prevent the release of the documents if necessary.
On Friday, the former president responded with a letter to the National Archives, formally claiming executive privilege over about 50 documents requested by the select committee.
Trump’s letter read: “In cases like this, where Congress has refused to allow sufficient time for a full review, there is a long-standing tradition of protective claims of executive privilege designed to ensure the ability to make a final privilege. claim if necessary over any or all of the material requested. ”
The ex-president added in a statement that the “Radical Left Democrats” once again tried to use Congress to persecute their political opponents. ” ‘Trump’ and our Make America Great Again movement, the greatest such achievement ever “.
He said: “It’s another big distraction, because Biden and the Democrats do not want you to see how badly America is losing because of their incompetence.”
Trump spent weeks before Jan. 6 pushing “the big lie” of a stolen election and urged the crowd that day to “fight like hell.” A Senate Judiciary Committee report this week reported on his efforts to pressure the Justice Department to overturn the election result in his favor.
Legal experts say his efforts to block the January 6 documents are unlikely to succeed.
At the White House press conference, Psaki remarked: “What this committee is investigating is not the normal course of government business … This committee is investigating a dark day in our democracy…. That context is also important here. ”
Key Trump allies have also vowed not to cooperate with the select committee. On Thursday, Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for the White Houses, said he would not abide by a subpoena it issued last month.
A lawyer for Bannon, Robert Costello, wrote in a letter to the committee that Bannon would refuse to comply because of Trump’s claim that he could invoke executive privilege to block Bannon’s testimony.
The committee responded Friday with a threat of charges of criminal contempt against Bannon. Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, chair of the committee, said in a joint statement: “While the selection committee welcomes the commitment in good faith of witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we do not allow any witness to defy a lawful summons or attempt to run around the clock and we will quickly consider promoting a criminal contempt for congressional referral. ”
They added that two other witnesses summoned by the panel, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon aide Kash Patel, are “engaging” in the committee. The status of a fourth witness, former Trump communications aide Dan Scavino, is still unclear.
A committee effort to prosecute witnesses with contempt would likely involve a vote in the entire chamber and a referral to the Department of Justice.
Joe Lockhart, a former White House press secretary, tweeted: “Any legal step to claim the executive privilege of the former president’s aides is contrary to existing legislation and should be prosecuted as an obstacle to justice. It’s a crime in the eyes right now. ”