WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will give a House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol access to some requested documents, despite executive privilege assertions by lawyers for former President Donald Trump.
The decision to authorize the National Archives to release these records — the first batch of several requests — could set up a legal showdown between the current president and his predecessor.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden wants to ensure something like the Capitol riot never happens again, “which is why the administration is cooperating with ongoing investigations.”
“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 had been provided to us by the National Archives,” Psaki said. She said the decision is just for the first set of documents, “and we will evaluate questions of privilege on a case-by-case basis.”
That news came as impending legal clashes between Trump and the House select committee were coming closer to reality. Steve Bannon, who served as Trump’s chief strategist and senior adviser, is refusing to cooperate with the House panel — and he’s doing so at the former president’s request.
Bannon’s lawyer confirmed to the committee that Trump’s counsel instructed him not to comply with a Sept. 23 subpoena that demanded he produce documents by Oct. 7 and then appear for a deposition on Oct. 14.
“It is therefore clear to us that since the executive privileges belong to President Trump, and he has, through his counsel, announced his intention to assert those executive privileges,” Bannon must “accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege,” lawyer Robert Costello wrote to the committee.
Bannon was ousted from his White House position in 2017 but has stayed in touch with Trump. The subpoena letter to Bannon describes him as being with Trump allies on Jan. 5 at the Willard Hotel, about a block from the White House, and says that he has been quoted as saying, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” It also says he talked with Trump in the weeks leading up to the insurrection, “urging him to plan for and focus on efforts on Jan. 6.”
Bannon is among four former Trump aides who were ordered to comply with subpoenas demanding that they produce emails, telephone records and other documents by this week and testify next week. The other former Trump aides are White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino and Defense Department official Kashyap Patel.
In a letter viewed by Bloomberg News on Thursday, a Trump lawyer told the four that the testimony and records sought by the committee are protected by executive privilege and other immunities.
“President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court,” the lawyer wrote.
But Democrats contend that decisions on invoking executive privilege are up to Biden — because he’s the current president.
Each of the former Trump aides has been described by the committee, which is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, as having knowledge of key details and events before, during and after the siege of the Capitol by Trump supporters. Panel members have said Trump’s activities that day are a central focus of their inquiry.
“While Mr. Meadows and Mr. Patel are, so far, engaging with the select committee, Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former president,” Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s Democratic chairman, and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Republican member, said in a joint statement. “The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony.”
They didn’t comment on whether Scavino was cooperating.
In his letter to the committee on behalf of Bannon, Costello suggested a significant legal battle is brewing.
“We will comply with the direction of the courts, when or if they rule on those claims of both executive and attorney client privileges,” he wrote to the Jan. 6 committee’s chief counsel and deputy staff director, Kristin Amerling.