By ERIC TUCKER, MARY CLARE JALONICK, ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) – White House says President Joe Biden will not block delivery of documents requested by a House committee investigating the Jan.6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol, staging a showdown with the former President Donald Trump, who wants to protect these White House records from investigators.
White House attorney Dana Remus’ Friday letter to the US Archivist comes at the start of a potentially lengthy legal battle over the investigation. Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” on the morning of the insurgency and defended the rioters who beat police and stormed into the Capitol, is trying to prevent Congress from knowing more. Biden has so far sided with House Democrats, who have requested thousands of pages of documents and subpoenaed witnesses linked to Trump.
The House committee to investigate the insurgency, which formed over the summer, now has the critical task of sorting out the details and obtaining documents and testimony from witnesses who may or may not be cooperative. And maneuvering between the two administrations, Congress and witnesses will certainly delay the investigation and pave the way for messy litigation that could extend into 2022.
In a separate development, an attorney for Steve Bannon said the former White House aide would not comply with the House committee investigation because Trump was claiming executive privilege. Bannon is the only one of Trump’s top aides cited to appear on September 23 who was not working for the Trump administration on January 6.
Two other aides, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon aide Kash Patel, “are engaging” with the committee, lawmakers said in a statement.
Remus wrote that Biden determined that the invocation of executive privilege “is not in the best interest of the United States.” The House panel had requested the records, including communication within the White House under Trump and information on the planning and funding of rallies held in Washington. Among those events was a rally near the White House on the morning of Jan.6 with remarks from Trump, which encouraged crowds of thousands to protest Biden’s victory.
Remus wrote that the documents “shed light on the events at the White House on and around January 6 and address the need for the select committee to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations. of the federal government since the civil war ”.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter on Friday. It was first reported by NBC News.
Trump responded with his own letter to the National Archives formally asserting privilege on nearly 50 documents.
Referring to the Presidential Records Act, Trump wrote: “I hereby make a protective assertion of constitutional privilege with respect to all additional records. He said if the committee looked for other information that it considered to be inside information, “I will take all necessary and appropriate steps to defend the office of the presidency.”
The investigation sets up a unique confrontation, opposing the current administration to its predecessor. With Biden now serving as president, he will appeal to some of Trump’s claims of privilege. And while Biden has responded to congressional first requests, the White House has said it will consider new claims “on a case-by-case basis.”
The final say may not lie with Biden, but with the courts, if Trump decides to prosecute – which is expected – or if the House votes for one of the witnesses to be in contempt of Congress. In the event of a contempt of the House vote, the Department of Justice would then decide whether or not to prosecute.
If Trump wins a lawsuit to block the documents, it would mark a dramatic expansion of unwritten executive power. But he should have an uphill battle, as the courts have traditionally left matters of executive privilege to the current occupant of the White House.
Leaders of the Jan. 6 panel, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said in a statement Friday that “we will not allow any witnesses to defy a legal subpoena or attempt to miss time. assigned. , and we will quickly consider advancing a criminal referral for contempt of Congress. “
The committee’s subpoenas had set a deadline Thursday for Bannon, Meadows, Patel and a fourth witness, former White House communications assistant Dan Scavino, to provide documents. They have also set dates for the interviews next week. Patel said in a statement that “I can confirm that I responded to the summons in a timely manner,” but declined to give details. A spokesperson for the committee declined to say whether Scavino was cooperating.
In a September 23 letter to Bannon, the committee said it had been in contact with Trump in the weeks leading up to the attack, urging him to focus its efforts on canceling the January 6 election, when Congress will certify electoral votes. The letter stated that Bannon was quoted on January 5 as saying “hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.
Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, said in an Oct. 7 letter to the panel that until the privilege issues are resolved, “we are unable to accommodate your requests for documents and testimony.” . Costello wrote that Bannon is ready to “follow the directions of the courts” when and if they make a ruling.
Costello’s letter includes excerpts from a separate letter to Bannon by Justin Clark, a lawyer for Trump. Clark said documents and testimony provided to the Jan. 6 panel could include information “potentially protected from disclosure by executive and other privileges, including, but not limited to, presidential communications, the deliberative process, and attorney privileges. -clients “.
The committee assigned 13 other people related to the Jan.6 planning and set deadlines for documents and interviews later this month.
Associated Press editors Ben Fox and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.