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Trump vows to fight Biden, House over documents linked to Jan 6 Capitol riot

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The Biden administration will give a House panel investigating the Jan 6 insurrection at the US Capitol access to some requested documents, but former President Donald Trump vowed to assert executive privilege and take “all necessary steps to defend the Office of the Presidency”.

Mr Trump, in a statement on Friday (Oct 8) evening, said he had written a letter to the National Archives, which had been authorised by President Joe Biden to release records involving the White House on Jan 6.

The statement and the letter were a strong indication that a legal showdown between Mr Trump and Mr Biden is all but certain.

In the statement, the former president called the House investigation another attempt by Democrats “to use Congress to persecute their political opponents”.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier on Friday that Mr Biden wants to ensure that 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,” Ms 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”.

The entirety of what the White House considers “the first set of documents” is unclear, but the committee’s first request to the National Archives came in an Aug 25 letter to David Ferriero, archivist of the US, for a variety of material related to the White House on Jan 6.

In his letter to Mr Ferriero, Mr Trump writes the committee has requested “an extremely broad set of documents and records, potentially numbering in the millions, which unquestionably contain information protected from disclosure by the executive and other privileges”.

The request included all records and communications tied to Mr Trump that day, his public remarks at a rally outside the White House, as well as his Twitter logs and meetings and events he attended. The panel also requested all photographs, videos and other media, including any digital time stamps, taken or recorded within the White House on Jan 6 and visitor logs that day.

One part of the request seeks: “All documents and communications received, prepared, or sent by any official within the White House Situation Room and the White House Operations Centre on Jan 6, 2021.”

The committee also requested documents and communications relating to various organisations and movements whose followers have backed Mr Trump, including QAnon, the Proud Boys, Stop the Steal, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

Documentation is also being sought regarding White House discussions concerning security at the Capitol, the electoral count, and overturning the election results, including those from a wide selection of people in Trump’s orbit, from Rudolph Giuliani to Justice Department officials, to political advisers.

The Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s statement and letter.

Bannon’s refusal

The news came as impending legal clashes between Mr Trump and the House select committee were coming closer to reality. Mr Steve Bannon, who served as Mr 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.

Mr Bannon’s lawyer confirmed to the committee that Mr 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,” Mr Bannon must “accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege,” the lawyer, Robert Costello, wrote to the committee.

Mr Bannon was ousted from his White House position in 2017 but has stayed in touch with Mr Trump. The subpoena letter to Mr 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 remarking, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.

It also says he talked with Me Trump in the weeks before the insurrection, “urging him to plan for and focus on efforts on Jan 6”.

Mr 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 aides are White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino and Defense Department official Kashyap Patel.

‘Fundamental privileges’

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.

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.

“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,” Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s Democratic chairman, and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Republican member, said in a joint statement. They didn’t comment on whether Scavino is cooperating.

In his letter to the committee on behalf of Mr Bannon, Mr 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.

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