The White House authorizes the National Archives to share documents with Jan. 6 panel

Oct 7, 2021
Originally published on October 8, 2021 3:15 pm

Updated October 8, 2021 at 3:21 PM ET

The White House is authorizing the National Archives to share a set of documents with the Democratic-led House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

Former President Donald Trump has said he plans to fight subpoenas from the panel for four former officials in his administration by using executive privilege, which is a right traditionally asserted by a White House to keep deliberations confidential.

Separately, the committee indicated Friday that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is not planning to comply with the subpoena it issued to him two weeks ago, citing his "vague references to privileges of the former President."

President Biden determined that asserting executive privilege was "not warranted" for the first set of documents gathered by the National Archives, Psaki said. She said that the panel's requests for documents would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and said Biden believes that reaching a "complete understanding" of what happened on Jan. 6 is of the "utmost importance."

In a letter to the National Archives, White House counsel Dana Remus said the documents "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."

"The conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the president's constitutional responsibilities," Remus wrote in the Oct. 8 letter, a copy of which was obtained by NPR.

Panel indicates it has not gotten cooperation from some former Trump aides

In September, the select panel issued subpoenas to four former Trump administration officials: Bannon; former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; the Trump White House's former deputy chief of staff for communications, Dan Scavino; and Kashyap Patel, who was chief of staff to former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.

The panel gave the four a deadline of Thursday to reply to a request for documents. The subpoenas also call for them to sit for a deposition next week.

In a statement Friday, the committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and its vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said:

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. The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony.

The committee has declined to comment on Scavino, who was not mentioned in the panel's statement on Friday.

However, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., another member of the committee, told NPR that the panel has yet to receive any "written communication" from any of the four witnesses as of yet, including Scavino.

"Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation," Thompson and Cheney added in their statement, "we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral."

While congressional subpoenas cannot be dismissed outright, if they're fought it could lead to an extended legal battle.

Latest subpoenas go to Stop the Steal organizers

Friday's statement followed a new wave of subpoenas on Thursday for a right-wing group, Stop the Steal, and several of its members, including far-right activist Ali Alexander.

The panel is seeking testimony and records from Alexander, listed in the subpoena as Ali Abdul Akbar, and Nathan Martin. Both are connected to permit applications for the rally that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol. The committee has also issued a subpoena to the Stop the Steal group, seeking records.

"The rally on the Capitol grounds on January 6th, like the rally near the White House that day, immediately preceded the violent attack on the seat of our democracy," Thompson said in a separate statement. "Over the course of that day, demonstrations escalated to violence and protestors became rioters. The Select Committee needs to understand all the details about the events that came before the attack, including who was involved in planning and funding them. We expect these witnesses to cooperate fully with our probe."

The panel said a group, under the name of One Nation Under God, in December 2020 submitted a permit application to the U.S. Capitol Police to hold a rally on Jan. 6 on "election fraud in the swing states." However, a vendor listed on the permit application told police the group was actually tied to Stop the Steal, Alexander and Martin.

When a Capitol Police official followed up with Martin, he rejected having any details on the rally, leaving the vendor "shocked," the panel said.

The committee said Alexander made references in public statements to the need for violence. For example, at a Dec. 19, 2020, event, Alexander said that violence had not been used "yet." There, he also lauded several members of Congress, including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who was at the event.

The committee says it has already received "thousands of pages of documents"

As the committee has ramped up its work, it has issued several other requests. Last week, the panel issued subpoenas to 11 individuals who played a role in organizing the rally before the siege. Among the people served were Maggie Mulvaney, the niece of former Trump adviser Mick Mulvaney, and Trump's 2016 campaign spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson.

In August, the committee issued orders to 35 social media and communications companies to preserve relevant records, and the panel asked eight federal agencies to turn over relevant documents while also seeking details from 15 social media companies on the spread of disinformation ahead of Jan. 6.

The panel has said it has received "thousands of pages of documents."

Republicans have painted the committee, which is mostly made up of Democrats, as nothing more than a partisan exercise.

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At least two former Trump officials, former strategist Steve Bannon and ex-White House aide Dan Scavino, are rebuffing subpoenas from a House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who sits on that panel, says they're exploring whether to issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

ZOE LOFGREN: We're going to pursue every remedy to compel compliance, but we're also getting a trove of information from others that will make this whole picture clear.

SHAPIRO: The panel wants them and two other former officials to testify by the end of next week. To tell us more, NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is here.

Hi, Claudia.


SHAPIRO: So yesterday was the deadline for four ex-Trump officials to turn over documents. How have they responded or not responded?

GRISALES: Well, it's kind of half and half, if you will. This was part of the first wave of subpoenas that was issued by this panel targeting these four individuals. That's Bannon, Scavino and former White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows and ex-Defense Department official Kash Patel. Now, the panel says they're in current talks with Meadows and Patel. But in a statement today, they did not mention Scavino. However, reports indicate that he has not been served his subpoena.

Meanwhile, Bannon has told the panel that he will not be cooperating. He referenced executive privilege, a shield that he says would protect him from having to go along with these subpoenas. However, as Lofgren and others have told me, that is not the case. Lofgren in particular said Bannon's case is weak. He was not part of the administration on January 6. Also, Trump is no longer president. She also noted that executive privilege rests with the current President Biden and not the former or, quote, "random people."

SHAPIRO: So we've been talking about the House panel. What about the Biden White House? What role is the administration playing as far as these requests go?

GRISALES: Yeah. They made some news today. The White House said that they have authorized the National Archives to share its first trove of documents with this committee. They said executive privilege does not shield these documents from being shared.

Now, we should note Trump had already argued that it does, that these documents should not be handed over. However, the Biden White House said these documents shed light on the day of the January 6 attack. They also said that President Biden believes reaching a complete understanding of what happened that day is of, quote, "utmost importance." Going forward, however, they're going to consider these requests for documents from the committee on a case-by-case basis when it comes to executive privilege.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about what happens if neither side blinks. Lofgren talked about possible next steps, maybe even including criminal referrals. What else is on the table?

GRISALES: Yeah. She mentioned those criminal referrals, and we should note this would go through the Justice Department under a Biden administration. So this is a whole new chapter in terms of how they would deal with it. And there's this potential that it could build up to witnesses facing fines or even jail time. The other option is civil litigation, and Lofgren said there might be even other tools they could rely on. They would basically fit them to the witness and see what was the best route to follow from there. And she also noted that these witnesses cannot just not show up and blow off Congress. They have to show up. And she said that Trump may be playing a role here influencing these witnesses and that he himself is prone to dragging out fights in the courts until he's safe. But she says that will not be the case this time.

LOFGREN: We're on to him. We're going to take whatever steps we're able to take to prevent death by a million court hearings that last for years. That is not acceptable.

GRISALES: So there, she's referring to the legal battles we saw during the Trump years. But again, this is a different story with the Biden Justice Department.

SHAPIRO: So just in a sentence or two, what's her next move likely to be?

GRISALES: So we'll see next week if these witnesses will come forward to testify. This panel is really hoping to see that happen. Meanwhile, they're working through thousands of pages of documents to put together a report as early as mid-next year before the elections.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you.

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