WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will have a big say in whether the government releases information to Congress on the actions of former President Donald Trump and his aides on Jan. 6. But there could be a lengthy court battle before any details come out.
The House committee investigating the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol asked last month for a trove of records, including communication within the White House under Trump and information about planning and funding for rallies held in Washington. Among those events was a rally near the White House featuring remarks by Trump, who egged on a crowd of thousands before loyalists stormed the Capitol.
A person familiar with the matter confirmed that the first tranche of documents from the Trump White House was turned over by the National Archives at the end of last month to the White House and Trump. Either party can object to the release of specific items. And Biden's White House has the right to overrule a Trump effort to block the release of information.
Beyond that, the former president may sue to block it all. Or Congress could choose to sue if legislators felt the Biden White House wanted to hold back too much. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Trump has said he would cite executive privilege and refuse to hand over any details. The legal maneuver has been used for decades by presidents and staff — including Trump himself — to avoid scrutiny by Congress.
But Trump doesn't necessarily have the final word now that he's out of office. According to a executive order on presidential records, the archivist who is in possession of the records “shall abide by any instructions given him by the incumbent President or his designee unless otherwise directed by a final court order.”
The White House has indicated it is inclined to release as many of the documents as possible; but officials aren’t ruling out that there could be individual records Biden may deem privileged.
Presidents tend to be protective of their executive privilege to keep White House documents private, both for themselves and their predecessors. But any White House move to deny the congressional request for records on Trump's activities could inflame Democratic legislators just when Biden needs their support to advance his agenda.
The requested documents are part of a lengthy, partisan and rancorous investigation into how a mob was able to infiltrate the Capitol and disrupt the certification of Biden’s presidential victory, inflicting the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries. More than 650 people have been charged criminally in the attack, the largest prosecution in U.S. history.
In addition to White House records from the archives, demands are being made for material from the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Interior, as well as the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
And late Thursday, the House committee subpoenaed former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino, former Defense Department official Kashyap Patel and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The request for the National Archives and Records Administration is 10 pages long. The committee is seeking “All documents and communications within the White House on January 6, 2021,” related to Trump’s close advisers and family members, the rally at the nearby Ellipse and Trump’s Twitter feed. It asks for his specific movements on that day and communications, if any, from the White House Situation Room. Also sought are all documents related to claims of election fraud, as well as Supreme Court decisions on the topic.
White House spokesman Michael Gwin said Biden has been engaging with Congress on Jan. 6 issues for several months, and will continue to do so.
“As President Biden has said, the events of January 6th were a dark stain on our country’s history, and they represented an attack on the foundations of our constitution and democracy in a way that few other events have," Gwin said. “The president is deeply committed to ensuring that something like that can never happen again and he supports a thorough investigation into what occurred.”
The committee is also seeking information about efforts within the Trump administration to push the president’s baseless claims of election fraud and any efforts to try to overturn the results of November’s election or to “impede the peaceful transfer of power.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is heading the committee, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after all but two Republicans opposed creating the 13-person panel.
It has also requested that telecommunications and social media companies preserve the personal communications of hundreds of people who may have somehow been connected to the attack.
Taylor Budowich, communications director for Trump and his political action committee, criticized the congressional panel's request for records and said the former president would fight it.
“The highly partisan, Communist-style ‘select committee’ has put forth an outrageously broad records request that lacks both legal precedent and legislative merit," he said. “Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of President Trump and his administration, but also on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our nation.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.