President Joe Biden believes it wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ to exert executive privilege over documents and information being sought by the select committee investing the Jan. 6th Capitol riot, White House Press Secretary Jen Paski said Friday.
Psaki was asked multiple times about the White House posture, hours after the select House Committee issued its first subpoenas – demanding information from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House aide Dan Scavino, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and a former top DOD official.
The requests are certain to draw legal push back, and former President Donald Trump vowed to fight the subpoenas on privilege and ‘other grounds.’
That could provoke yet another court fight like the one that held up testimony by former White House Counsel Don McGahn for two years – or a weighty clash where the House committee asks the Justice Department to hold the witnesses in contempt.
‘We take this matter incredibly seriously,’ said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when asked if President Biden would assert privilege over information requests related to the Jan. 6th Capitol riot
Psaki said she wasn’t aware of any ‘outreach’ from the former President or his team on the matter.
‘We take this matter incredibly seriously. The president has already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege. And so, we will respond promptly to these questions as they arise, and certainly as they come up from Congress,’ she said.
She said the White House has been working ‘closely’ with Congressional committees ‘and others as they work to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6, an incredibly dark day in our democracy,’ she said.
She later added she was not making a blanket statement, but it was ‘an eye toward not asserting executive privilege.’
‘That is certainly his overarching view.’
She was asked whether Biden might assert presidential prerogatives for sharing internal communications – given the possibility the president might seek to withhold even information that could be harmful to former President Donald Trump in order to protect himself or the office of the presidency from future intrusive requests.
The stakes are high after Thursday night’s announcement of subpoenas. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the committee, said criminal contempt is ‘on the table’ should witnesses fail to comply with a subpoena.
‘Well criminal contempt is on the table. We’ve discussed it. And if it comes to that, there will be no reluctance at all on the committee to do that,’ he told CNN.
He said the panel does not expect the first four witnesses to cooperate – setting up a potential clash.
Thompson told ABC that Donald Trump’s adult children could potentially be in line for subpoenas.
‘I won’t say specifically but a lot depends on the kind of information we get … nobody is beyond a subpoena,’ he said.
The select committee issued its first subpoenas Thursday – targeting former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and two close Donald Trump confidants as well as a former Pentagon official.
Meadows featured prominently in Trump’s efforts to pressure state official in Georgia and other states where Trump pushed claims of election fraud as part of his election overturn effort.
The subpoenas also went to former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, longtime Trump and White House aide Dan Scavino, and former Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel.
‘While serving as White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows reportedly communicated with officials at the state level and in the Department of Justice as part of an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election or prevent the election’s certification,’ according to a committee release.
It also cited press reports of organizers of the Jan. 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally which preceded the riot.
Former President Trump vowed to fight on ‘Executive Privilege and other grounds,’ indicating the committee may have to wage a legal battle to secure testimony and information as it probes the Jan. 6th riot on the day Congress met to count the Electoral College votes.
The House select committee on the Capitol riot has subpoenaed former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President Dan Scavino
‘We understand that in the weeks after the November 2020 election, you contacted several state officials to encourage investigation of allegations of election fraud, even after such allegations had been dismissed by state and federal courts, and after the Electoral College had met and voted on December 14, 2020,’ according to the subpoena letter to Meadows.
‘Moreover, at least one press report indicates you were in communication with organizers of the January 6 rally, including Amy Kremer of Women for America First. Accordingly, the Select Committee seeks both documents and your deposition testimony regarding these and other matters that are within the scope of the Select Committee’s inquiry.’
The committee has already sent out sweeping document requests to the National Archives as well as other government agencies seeking information on a host of former officials. Its aides have been poring over government documents and those sought from social media companies.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) warned Thursday night that more subpoenas could be coming.
‘No one is off the table,’ he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night.
‘We’ll determine what went wrong in the lead-up to January 6, and we’re going to find out who was involved and who was knowledgeable and what roles they played in the planning, what expectation they had of violence, and what the former president was doing.
‘Among the biggest unknowns is what was going on within the White House on January 5 and 6, at that critical time when our democracy was being threatened with a violent insurrection,’ he continued.
‘So we’re not wasting time,’ Schiff, a Democrat from California said. ‘We’ve made a lot of strides in requiring documents that we need for the investigation.’
The letter to Bannon identifies him as having been present at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 5th, 2021 – and cites Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, Peril.
‘You have been identified as present at the Willard Hotel on January 5, 2021, during an effort to persuade Members of Congress to block the certification of the election the next day, and in relation to other activities on January 6,’ it says.
‘You are also described as communicating with then-President Trump on Dec. 30, 2020, and potentially other occasions, urging him to plan for and focus his efforts on Jan. 6.’ it says.
It also quotes Bannon saying on Jan. 5th that ‘all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.’
Former President Trump blasted the subpoenas in a statement from his Save America PAC, mocking the panel the ‘Unselect Committee.’
‘The “Unselect Committee” of highly partisan politicians, a similar group that perpetrated the now proven lie of Russia, Russia, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, and many other Scams, has sent out Harassment Subpoenas on Jan. 6th so that the Government of the United States can continue wasting time while Russia, China, and virtually every other country that deals with our Nation can continue to “eat our lunch,” and laugh at the stupidity of what is going on at our Southern Border, and the worst withdrawal from a war zone by any Nation in history—all of this while the Democrats persecute and prosecute Republicans which is, together with Rigging Elections, essentially all they know how to do,’ Trump wrote.
‘We will fight the Subpoenas on Executive Privilege and other grounds, for the good of our Country, while we wait to find out whether or not Subpoenas will be sent out to Antifa and BLM for the death and destruction they have caused in tearing apart our Democrat-run cities throughout America,’ Trump vowed.
Trump then renewed his repeated claims of election fraud – and claimed ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people protested the elections, although media reports stated only that thousands attended events in November and January.
‘Hopefully the Unselect Committee will be calling witnesses on the Rigged Presidential Election of 2020, which is the primary reason that hundreds of thousands of people went to Washington, D.C. in the first place. Let the people of the United States see the real facts, which cannot happen because the Fake News refuses to write about them. The Witch Hunt will never end! In the meantime, the Democrats get away with the Russia Scam, and all of the other corruption they have perpetrated on our Country for so many years. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’
The committee notes that Scavino, Trump’s former golf caddy who rose to become a close aide who managed Trump’s Twitter account, was with Trump during key moments.
The subpoena letter to Bannon identifies him as having been present at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 5th, 2021
Trump loyalist Kash Patel became chief of staff to the secretary of defense. The subpoena cites a press report of an effort to install him at the CIA in the last days of the administration
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo with the White House in the background, President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington
‘Reporting indicates that former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino was with the former President on January 5th during a discussion of how to convince Members of Congress not to certify the election for Joe Biden,’ according to the committee. ‘Prior to the January 6th March for Trump, Mr. Scavino promoted the event on Twitter, encouraging people to “be a part of history.”‘
The inclusion of Patel indicates the panel’s interest in lines of inquiry about a host of high level staff changes in the final months and weeks of the Trump administration.
It cites reports that Trump ‘attempted to install Mr. Patel as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in early December, but that planned appointment was abandoned after then-CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the select committee, signed the subpoena letters
The subpoena letters cite times aides were in contact with Trump on or around Jan. 6th
Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper days after the election, then installed Chris Miller as acting Pentagon chief, only to bring on Patel, a Trump loyalist, as chief of staff. Patel was installed on Nov. 10th, a week after the Nov. 3 election.
According to an Axios report in January, Haspel balked at having Patel brought on the CIA, and the effort was halted only after interventions by Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
Patel previously served as an aide to GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who furiously defended Trump amid the Russia probe.
The subpoenas call on the four men to sit for depositions October 14 and October 15.
The Meadows letter says it appears he was within the ‘vicinity’ of Trump on Jan. 6, and had communications with Trump and others ‘regarding the events at the Capitol’ and ‘are a witness concerning events that day.’
It also cites documents already obtained from the Justice Department, and states that ‘while you were the President’s Chief of Staff, you directly communicated with the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states.’
All the letters were signed by panel chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). The House created the committee after talks broke down over creating an independent commission.
The House gave the committee subpoena power. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi clashed with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over his appointments to the committee, ultimately naming GOP Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) herself.
Bannon said on his podcast that he spoke with Trump before the rally about how to ‘kill the Biden presidency in the crib.’
Costa had referenced the Willard meeting in a media interview and said Bannon had told Trump about killing the Biden presidency in the crib.
‘Yeah, because his legitimacy,’ Bannon added on his broadcast after playing the clip. ‘Forty-two per cent of the American people think that Biden did not win the presidency legitimately.’
The Scavino letter says the panel has reason to believe he holds information about Trump’s ‘communications strategy’ leading up to the riot, and cites the same Willard meeting.
It says it may have materials as to his videotaping and tweeting materials on Jan. 6th.
It cites Scavino’s own tweet as evidence he was tweeting from the White House on Jan. 6th.
The efforts to claw information from Scavino and Meadows in particular are certain to draw claims of executive privilege should they mount an effort to resist the subpoenas.
Scavino remained as a communications advisor to Trump in his taxpayer-funded post-presidential office.
Trump late last month already threatened to invoke the privilege – just as he ordered officials to resist congressional probes and went to court while he was in office.
‘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 the statement.
The White House plans to err on the side of disclosure and cooperate with document requests by the Select Committee, the Washington Post reported Thursday.