Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to invoke executive privilege in an effort to block the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot from obtaining a massive tranche of documents it’s demanding from several US government agencies, despite his successor having the ultimate say over whether the information can be shared.
“Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of my Administration and the Patriots who worked beside me, but on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our Nation,” Trump said in a statement, without detailing how such an effort would be conducted.
The Biden administration has already declined to assert executive privilege over some testimony related to January 6, telling former Justice Department officials that they were free to provide “unrestricted testimony.” But the administration has not weighed in on whether the committee should have unrestricted access to records and documents from the Trump White House.
The document requests from the House select committee echo those previously issued by other House committees in the aftermath of the January 6 riot, while significantly broadening the search to other areas and people inside and outside government. Specifically, the select committee is asking for records from the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and, perhaps most importantly, the National Archives — the custodian of the Trump administration White House records.
The list of targets is long and varied, ranging from information about attempts to either carry out or defy Trump’s orders, invoke the insurrection act, martial law or the 25th Amendment, as well as for communications regarding members of the Trump White House, campaign, January 5 and January 6 rally organizers, and even alleged members of far-right extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
“The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is examining the facts, circumstances, and causes of the January 6th attack. Our Constitution provides for a peaceful transfer of power, and this investigation seeks to evaluate threats to that process, identify lessons learned and recommend laws, policies, procedures, rules, or regulations necessary to protect our republic in the future,” committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, wrote in a statement Wednesday.
That message was echoed by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, another member of the committee, who told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “OutFront” Wednesday evening that “this is just the beginning.”
“We are trying to find out what happened leading up to January 6, the various elements, the reasoning, who instigated it, why they instigated it and the like. We want to find out every element of it, and so we’ve made this request and this is, as I said, just the beginning. There are many other requests for documents that we will be making,” Lofgren said.
“Some of these requests were made to these agencies by other committees in Congress earlier and they have not been responded to. So we need the information now and we’ve made that clear to the various federal agencies.”
Several of the letters request “all documents and communications” related in any way to Trump and members of his family who served in official roles at the White House, including: former First Lady Melania Trump and top advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
Some of the former President’s other children and their spouses, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Lara Trump, are named as well.
The committee is also seeking records related to then-Vice President Mike Pence and a host of former White House officials, including former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, as well as of the former President, who have questioned the validity of election results in key states where Trump lost.
Among those listed are Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and Roger Stone.
Investigators focused on efforts to overturn 2020 election results
As part of the sweeping records request, the committee has asked the Department of Justice for documents and communications involving discussions about challenging the validity of the election between Trump and former top DOJ officials, such as Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Donoghue, Patrick Hovakimian, Byung J.”BJay” Pak, Bobby Christine and Jeffrey Clark.
The committee also requested communications between Trump or his allies and “any DOJ official” in the days before and after January 6. As part of that request, the committee asked for any documentation related to discussion of the 25th Amendment from November 3, 2020, to January 20, 2021.
CNN previously reported that Clark, a Trump-appointed environment law chief for DOJ, was at the center of the former President’s efforts to overturn the election, received a high-level intelligence briefing around New Year’s 2021 that did little to stop his efforts to prove foreign interference had cost Trump reelection.
He has emerged as a major figure in the narrative being written in documents and testimony from former Justice Department officials who were forced to fight off his efforts to orchestrate a coup of leadership at the Justice Department and use it to help the former President.
Clark isn’t scheduled yet for an interview with the House Select Committee. A source familiar with Clark’s thinking told CNN earlier this month he is awaiting access to documents the committee has and to see whether a fight over the secrecy of presidential discussions materializes.
In addition, the committee requested all documents and communications from individuals that could show DOJ intervention in litigation filed by the Trump campaign — or states seeking to challenge the election.
On that list are Meadows as well as Trump lawyers and advisers, including Giuliani, Kurt Olsen, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Joseph diGenova, and Victoria Toensing.
The committee also asked the Justice Department to provide documents that pertain to the certification of the election, including the role that Pence played in presiding over the Senate the day election results were certified.
And the committee asked about any senior personnel changes at the Justice Department, including with presidential appointees, between November 3, 2020, and January 20, 2021.
The committee specifically requested all documentation pertaining to Clark, a former Trump appointee at the DOJ who has emerged as central to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. The committee also requested communication between then-Attorney General William Barr and attorneys investigating allegations of voter fraud.
Targeting efforts to overturn the election results from within the White House, the committee is seeking records from the National Archives including all communication between White House officials and state government officials from hotly contested states such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Michigan.
The officials include Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, chief investigator for Georgia Secretary of State Frances Watson, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, former Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, and Wayne County Board of Canvassers Chairwoman Monica Palmer.
The panel is also demanding all communication related to Dominion Voting Systems Corp., which was the system used that became a primary target of voter fraud falsehoods.
Committee seeks internal White House communications
In its request to the National Archives, which houses all of Trump’s records from his time as president, the select committee zeroes in on the paper trail it wants to obtain from the former President and his orbit.
Based on how the panel’s request is divided, it appears focused on examining whether the White House worked to delay or impede the counting of election results, what Trump knew about the election outcome versus what he stated publicly, the planning and recruitment around the January 6 rally, and if there were efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
The list surrounding Trump includes requests for call logs, telephone records, schedules and meetings for an expansive group including the Trump children — Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. — as well as Lara Trump, Jared Kushner, Melania Trump, Flynn, Stone, Giuliani, Stephen Miller, Marc Short, Hope Hicks and Kayleigh McEnany.
Although the list does not name any members of Congress, the committee requests documentation on “any Member of Congress or congressional staff” who fits into this category of officials who were influential in maneuvering Trump’s handling of the events of January 6.
From the day of January 6 specifically, the committee requests all White House visitor logs, notations on movements of Trump and communications from the Situation Room.
In terms of the security breakdowns related to January 6, the committee also asked the Justice Department for all documents related to its planning as well as decision making on when to deploy law enforcement personnel to the Capitol and discussion about the use of martial law.
The committee goes as far as requesting all documents pertaining to “the mental stability” of Trump or “his fitness for office” in the days between the insurrection and when he left office on January 20.
Will Biden assert privilege?
The National Archives previously told CNN it possesses documents that are relevant to the committee’s investigation and that there is a process “by which the Congress and the incumbent administration may request access to records of former administrations.”
The committee’s document requests could lead to potentially lengthy fights over access.
President Joe Biden could seek to block the committee from receiving any of the documents by asserting executive privilege.
And Trump could still try to go to court to stop the committee from obtaining documents from the Trump White House and testimony from people like former White House Chief of Staff Meadows.
The question of executive privilege poses several potentially uncomfortable political scenarios for Biden.
If he does assert privilege, the Democrat-led committee could pursue more extreme legal avenues to try to obtain the records. If he doesn’t, that could set a precedent that opens his administration to expansive, Republican-led probes if the GOP wins either chamber in the midterm elections.
CNN reported earlier this week that congressional investigators are also poised to send notices to various telecommunications companies requesting that they preserve the phone records of several people, including members of Congress.
Rep. Thompson a Mississippi Democrat, said the panel plans to send notices to social media companies, too, though he declined to name which ones.
“I can tell you that we’ll look at everything that will give us information on what happened on January 6,” Thompson said. “We will look at all records at some point.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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