The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “deferred” its requests for several dozen pages of records from former President Donald Trump's administration at the White House's urging, but President Joe Biden again rejected the former president's invocation of executive privilege on hundreds of additional pages.
In a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration, Biden counsel Dana Remus repeated that the president has “determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified” for two tranches of documents sent to the White House for review last month.
The panel is investigating the violent Capitol siege by Trump's supporters that day and has sought documents connected to the former president, who has falsely said he won the presidential election and that morning urged his crowd of followers to “fight like hell."
Obtained Monday by The Associated Press, the letter from Remus reveals that the committee “deferred” its request for nearly 50 pages of documents as a result of an “accommodation” process with the Biden White House. That process allows the White House to protect some records that may be privileged without formally blocking their release.
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The letter from Remus came two weeks after the White House said it would not block an earlier, more sweeping tranche of documents after Trump sought to shield them. Biden has made clear that he does not want to block the committee's work, and Remus wrote in both letters that the documents could “shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War.”
Still, the White House's desire to shield some documents shows that the process of approving releases to the Jan. 6 committee won't always be simple, as presidents have long relied on their ability to assert executive privilege to protect their internal communications and deliberations. Biden's decisions to release certain documents could set precedents for future administrations and could eventually apply to his own records when he is out of office.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Jan. 6 panel said that lawmakers welcomed Biden's decision to allow the production of the two additional sets of records and that the committee had agreed to “defer action” on certain records.
“The Select Committee has not withdrawn its request for those records and will continue to engage with the executive branch to ensure we get access to all the information relevant to our probe,” said spokesman Tim Mulvey.
Even though Biden has approved the release of most of the documents, their ultimate fate will now be decided by the courts. Trump filed suit earlier this month to try to block the archives from releasing his records.
In the lawsuit, Trump called the document requests a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition” that was “untethered from any legitimate legislative purpose,” according to the papers filed in federal court in the District of Columbia.
The former president's lawyer has also sought to block testimony from some of his former aides, including longtime ally Steve Bannon. The House voted to hold Bannon in contempt last week after he defied the panel's subpoena and his lawyer said that Trump would assert privilege over his testimony.