Trump, executive privilege and criminal contempt: Everything we know about the Capitol riot committee

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In May, Senate Republicans blocked the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events leading up to and surrounding violence at the US Capitol on 6 January.

A GOP filibuster attempted to crush an investigation into the assault, which was fuelled by the persistent lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, who continues to amplify a baseless narrative of election fraud and manipulation while drumming up support for his brand at rallies and in Twitter-style statements issued by his allies on his behalf.

Mr Trump was impeached a second time by House lawmakers for inciting the riot. The Senate voted to acquit him. And without bipartisan consensus to formally investigate the failed attempt to overturn election results during the violence in the halls of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed a resolution to form a select committee. That resolution passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 222 to 190, with only two Republicans – Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney – joining all Democrats in support. Sixteen Republican members did not vote.

The committee is made up of US Reps Cheney and Kinzinger along with Democrats Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff, Pete Aguilar, Stephanie Murphy, Jamie Raskin and Elaine Luria. US Rep Bennie Thompson is the committee chairman.

An attempt to gather documents and testimony from dozens of people has spiraled into a legal battle between Trump allies and an unwavering committee backed by subpoena power. Here is what we know so far.

The committee is requesting hundreds of documents

On 25 August, the committee issued a first round of demands for extensive records from several White House offices, agencies and federal law enforcement groups. Those records include communications among more than 30 Trump-era White House staff and cabinet officials and associates – including call logs, phone records, meeting memos and White House visitor records.

A request was also sent to the National Archives and Records Administration, which preserves White House communications.

The next day, the committee requested records from 15 social media companies for documents “related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election or prevent the certification of the results, domestic violent extremism, and foreign influence in the 2020 election” across their platforms.

Subpoenas were also sent to Ali Alexander and Nathan Martin, organisers behind Stop The Steal, the rally and movement that preceded the attack on the Capitol. They are scheduled for deposition on 28-29 October.

Former assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark also is scheduled for a deposition on 29 October.

Donald Trump, ‘executive privilege’ and a new lawsuit

The former president has repeatedly insisted that his “executive privilege” will prevent the release of subpoenaed records – though he no longer is president – by invoking the right of the executive office to prevent the public release of confidential communications, if they are found to compromise the function of government.

White House counsel Dana Remus informed Archivist of the United States David Ferriero on 8 October that President Joe Biden will not uphold Mr Trump’s request to use his executive privilege to prevent the release of documents requested by the committee.

The president “has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States,” according to the letter.

“Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the President’s constitutional responsibilities,” the letter states.

That day, Mr Trump lashed out in a series of statements issued by his spokesperson.

“The Democrats are drunk on power, but this dangerous assault on our Constitution and important legal precedent will not work,” he said.

He accused the committee of leading a “fake investigation” to use “the power of the government to silence ‘Trump’ and our Make America Great Again movement, the greatest such achievement of all time.”

In his own letter to the National Archives on 8 October, Mr Trump said that should the committee continue to seek records from the Trump administration, “I will take all necessary and appropriate steps to defend the Office of the Presidency.”

On 18 October, he filed a lawsuit against Chairman Thompson and the committee itself, as well as the National Archives and Mr Ferriero, in an attempt to block the committee from obtaining those records.

In a statement, Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich said Mr Trump filed the suit “in defense of the Constitution, the Office of the President, and the future of our nation, all of which the sham Unselect Committee is trying to destroy”.

Legal experts told The Independent that the lawsuit is “doomed to fail,” according to Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“It suffers from a central flaw from the first page to the last, which is that it’s constant references to ‘the president,’ it forgets that that individual is now named Joe Biden, not Donald Trump,” he said.

Steve Bannon and criminal contempt charges

The committee voted unanimously on 19 October to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon – Mr Trump’s one-time adviser – in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

Two days later, the full House of Representatives voted to recommend criminal contempt of Congress against him.

All 220 Democrats and just nine Republicans voted to support the resolution.

His case will be referred to the US Attorney’s office for potential contempt charges in front of a grand jury.

On 23 September, the committee issued subpoenas to Mr Bannon as well as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media director Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel, a former legislative aide to US Rep Devin Nunes.

But Mr Bannon has invoked the former president’s claims of executive privilege from complying with the subpoena, though Mr Bannon has not worked for the White House since 2017.

Mr Bannon’s attorney said Mr Bannon “will not be producing documents or testifying” but will revisit his position if Mr Trump does so, or if a court rules against him, according to a letter sent to the committee on 14 October.

In a statement following Mr Bannon’s objection, Chairman Thompson accused him of “hiding behind the former president’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke.”

“We reject his position entirely,” he said on 14 October. “The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr Bannon for criminal contempt.”

Mr Thompson said that the committee “will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed.”

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