Washington – President Joe Biden yesterday rejected a bid by Donald Trump to withhold documents from a congressional committee investigating the January 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of the former president.
The House Select Committee warned four former members of the Trump administration meanwhile they could be subject to charges of criminal contempt of Congress if they decline to answer subpoenas from the panel.
Trump is seeking to assert executive privilege to prevent documents relating to January 6 from being handed over to the select committee by the National Archives.
Executive privilege allows a president to keep certain communications confidential. Legal experts are divided on whether it applies to a former president, and Biden declined to assert it on behalf of Trump.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House is “cooperating with ongoing investigations” and “has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents.”
Biden will “evaluate cases of privilege on a case by case basis” but he believes it is of the “utmost importance for both Congress and the American people to have a complete understanding of the events of that day to prevent them from happening again,” Psaki said.
The committee investigating the Capitol attack issued a request in August for records related to the attempt by Trump supporters to block the certification by Congress of Biden’s November election victory.
Among the records and documents being sought are communications from Trump, members of his family, his top aides, his lawyers and dozens of other former members of his administration.
In a statement yesterday, Trump accused Democrats of using Congress to “persecute their political opponents” and released a letter to the head of the National Archives reiterating his claims of executive privilege.
“This is about using the power of the government to silence ‘Trump’ and our Make America Great Again movement, the greatest such achievement of all time,” he said. “We won two elections, did far better in the second than the first, and now perhaps have to do it a third time!”
‘Contempt of Congress’
The committee has issued subpoenas to four former Trump aides: Mark Meadows, Kash Patel, Dan Scavino and Steve Bannon.
Politico and The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Trump has told the four former advisors not to cooperate with the probe.
Representative Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the select committee, said yesterday that Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, and Patel, a former White House national security advisor, were “engaging with the Select Committee.”
But Bannon, a former senior political advisor to Trump, has “indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former president,” Thompson said.
“The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony,” he said.
“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,” Thompson said.
The committee has held one hearing so far, on July 27, when four Capitol and Washington police officers testified about defending the Senate and House of Representatives from the mob on January 6.
Trump has consistently refused to acknowledge his defeat to Biden and make unfounded claims that he won the election.
The real estate mogul was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House in January for inciting insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate. — AFP