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US: Trump sues to keep White House records from January 6 committee

  • October 19, 2021

On Monday, former US President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. to block efforts by the congressional January 6 committee to obtain records regarding what led to the violent insurrection that sought to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction based on executive privilege. While Trump is not the first president to assert executive privilege, he is the first former president to do so as a challenge to a successor’s decision to waive that right.

The Supreme Court has ruled that exceptional circumstances such as the Watergate burglary or the aftermath of September 11 are exempt. No court has ruled on a former president’s right to assert executive privilege.

Lawsuit as a stall tactic

In the suit, Trump claims the January 6 committee’s request for documents is “almost limitless in scope” and alleges it is a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.” In particular, the suit names the January 6 committee and the national archives.

The lawsuit was filed by Arlington, Virginia-based attorney Jesse Binnall, who previously represented Trump in his failed effort to reverse his electoral misfortunes in the US state of Nevada.

For long-time observers of the former president, the lawsuit comes as no surprise and can be a useful means for Trump to delay the release of any documents.

Executive privilege and the separation of powers

More than 600 individuals now face federal criminal charges for storming the Capitol to disrupt the House and Senate from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory on January 6.

Before the violent effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, Trump delivered a fiery speech on the ellipse in front of the White House late in the morning of January 6 where he called on his supporters to march on the Capitol.

In requesting the injunction, Trump aims to challenge the authority of the January 6 committee by asserting that it threatens the separation of powers.

While the mob on January 6 may have failed in its effort to subvert democratic procedure, the insurrection presented a challenge to the traditional balance of powers that has guided the US, based on its constitution, for well over 200 years.

Earlier this month, President Biden authorized the national archives to hand over an initial selection of documents requested by the January 6 committee.

While legal experts say Trump cannot use executive privilege to prevent the January 6 committee from obtaining documents and testimony, the lawsuit can help slow the release of documents.

Trump aides subpoenaed

In addition to seeking documents from the former president and his aides and allies, the January 6 committee has issued subpoenas to other Trump allies including adviser Steve Bannon, Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark, who was on board with the effort to subvert the electoral outcome, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and Pentagon ally Kash Patel.

Steve Bannon has asserted executive privilege in defiance of the subpoena from Congress, despite not having worked at the White House since 2017. Meadows and Patel are in negotiations with the committee.

The January 6 committee votes Tuesday on whether to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress. The full House will need to vote to do so once the committee approves the move.

ar/sri (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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