The former president is claiming “executive privilege” to stop former aides giving evidence to Congress, in an escalation of his efforts to stonewall investigators looking into the deadly Capitol assault.
The challenge will likely touch off an extended high-stakes showdown in the courts that will test the constitutional authority of Congress to scrutinize the executive branch.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol nine months ago in an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory.
They had been egged on by Trump, whose fiery speech earlier that day falsely claiming election fraud was the culmination of months of baseless claims about a contest he lost fairly to Biden.
“The committee’s request amounts to nothing less than a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition openly endorsed by Biden and designed to unconstitutionally investigate President Trump and his administration,” says the lawsuit filed in Washington’s district court.
Congressional investigators are seeking testimony from officials who could speak to what Trump, who is considering running for a second term in 2024, knew about the attack beforehand, and what he did while it was ongoing.
Since late August, the National Archives has been sending Biden and Trump voluminous records requested by investigators, giving them 30 days to review materials.
The Supreme Court has ruled that presidents can keep certain documents and discussions confidential to promote more candid discourse with aides, and Trump is far from the first to take advantage of this carve-out.
No court has ruled on whether the privilege extends to former presidents, however. For now, Biden has the final say, and has already permitted a first batch of documents to be released over Trump’s objections.
The lawsuit calls for a federal judge to declare any request from the committee to be invalid and to block the National Archives from turning over any materials.
Even though defeat seems likely, the lawsuit could delay the releases for months or years, threatening to push back a report on the attack closer to the 2022 midterm elections — inviting accusations of bias from Trumpworld.
The former president has already demanded that top aides — from his final chief of staff Mark Meadows to political strategist Steve Bannon — defy subpoenas to appear before the select committee.
“We will fight the subpoenas on executive privilege and other grounds for the good of our country,” Trump said after the select committee announced the subpoenas.
A comfortable majority of 57 senators — including seven from his own party — voted to convict Trump after he was impeached by the House for inciting the January 6 riot, although this fell short of the two-thirds majority required under Senate rules to unseat a president.
With inputs from NDTV