Committee probing deadly Capitol riot seeks interviews, documents from activists who organised former president’s rally.
President Joe Biden has declined a request by his predecessor Donald Trump to prevent White House records of the deadly January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol from being turned over to congressional investigators.
The former president, who plans to hold a political rally in Iowa on Saturday, is fighting a formal inquiry by the US House of Representatives into the events of January 6, including his own actions and the activities of his aides and political advisers.
That day, Trump gave a fiery speech in Washington, DC, to thousands of his supporters and urged them to march on the Capitol where US legislators were meeting to certify Biden’s election victory. He was later impeached for “incitement of insurrection” after a mob stormed the building.
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration would not allow Trump to assert “executive privilege” to block the request from the House committee investigating the riot for the Trump White House documents.
“The president’s dedicated to ensuring that something like that could never happen again, which is why the administration is cooperating with ongoing investigations, including the January 6 Select Committee, to bring to light what happened,” Psaki told reporters during an afternoon briefing.
“As a part of this process, the president has determined that an assertion 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.”
Lawyers for Trump had sought to prevent Congress from obtaining those records by claiming “executive privilege”, a controversial legal argument that presidents have attempted to use in the past to shield confidential, internal discussions.
NBC News first reported that Biden had declined to assert executive privilege on Trump’s behalf, with White House Counsel Dana Remus telling the National Archives in a letter that “an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interest of the United States”.
“Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the discharge of the President’s constitutional duties,” the letter said.
The House select committee investigating the insurrection, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has also subpoenaed a number of former Trump aides as well as organisers of his January 6 rally.
It has demanded interviews and documents from former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and communications deputy Dan Scavino.
The committee has also subpoenaed Trump’s former top political adviser Steve Bannon and Kash Patel, who was appointed by Trump to be chief of staff to the acting secretary of defence after the November 2020 election.
A lawyer for Bannon informed the committee in an October 7 letter that he would not comply with the investigation, unless directed to do so by a court, because Trump is asserting executive privilege, The Associated Press news agency reported.
In a statement on October 6, Trump had called the committee “partisan”, disparaged its two Republican members as “pathetic” and reasserted his unfounded claims that “the real insurrection” happened on November 3 – the day of the US presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without any evidence that the vote was marred by widespread fraud and “stolen” from him.
Committee leaders issued a statement on Friday indicating that Meadows and Patel so far are cooperating with the committee’s requests and signalled they would take swift action through the Department of Justice to force Bannon’s cooperation.
“We will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of congress referral,” they said.