United States President Joe Biden is ordering the release of Trump White House visitor logs to a House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol, once more rejecting former President Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege.
The committee has sought a trove of data from the National Archives, including presidential records that Trump had fought to keep private. The records being released to Congress are visitor logs showing appointment information for individuals who entered the White House on the day of the insurrection.
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In a letter sent on Monday to the National Archives, White House counsel Dana Remus said Biden had considered Trump’s claim that because he was president at the time of the attack on the Capitol, the records should remain private, but decided against it.
“The President has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified, as to these records and portions of records,” Remus wrote.
Remus noted that as a matter of policy, the Biden administration “voluntarily discloses such visitor logs on a monthly basis”, as did the Obama administration, and that the majority of the entries over which Trump asserted the claim would be publicly released under the present policy.
Remus, in the letter, said the logs of those who visited the White House before Trump left on January 20, 2021, should be handed over quickly “in light of the urgency” of the committee’s work and Congress’s “compelling need”.
A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
The Presidential Records Act mandates that records made by a sitting president and his staff be preserved in the National Archives, and an outgoing president is responsible for turning over documents to the agency when leaving office. Trump earlier tried, but failed to withhold White House documents from the House committee in a dispute that was decided by the Supreme Court.
Biden, a Democrat, has already made clear that he is not invoking executive privilege concerning the congressional investigation unless he absolutely must.
Last year, Biden rejected a Trump bid to block the US House of Representatives January 6 committee from accessing batches of documents from the former president’s time at the White House.
The committee is focused on Trump’s actions from January 6, when he waited hours to tell his supporters to stop the violence and leave the Capitol. Investigators are interested in the organisation and financing of a Washington rally the morning of the riot, when Trump told supporters to “fight like hell”. Among the lines of inquiry is how closely the organisers of the rally coordinated with the White House officials.
House investigators are seeking communications between the National Archives and Trump’s aides about 15 boxes of records that the agency recovered from Trump at his Florida resort and are trying to learn what they contained.
Meanwhile, White House call logs obtained so far by the House committee do not list calls made by Trump as he watched the violence unfold on television on January 6, nor do they list calls made directly to the president.
That lack of clarity about Trump’s personal calls is a particular challenge as the investigators work to discern what happened, what the then-president was doing in the White House as supporters violently beat police, broke into the Capitol and interrupted the congressional certification of Biden’s election victory.
There are several possible explanations for omissions in the records, which do not reflect conversations that Trump had on January 6 with multiple Republican lawmakers, for example. Trump was known to use a personal mobile phone, or he could have had a phone passed to him by an aide. The committee is continuing to receive records from the National Archives and other sources, which could produce additional information.
The White House planned to inform Trump’s lawyers about the decision on Wednesday, according to The New York Times, which first reported the letter.
Separately on Wednesday, the founder of a right-wing militia group charged with seditious conspiracy over his alleged role in organising the January 6 attack was to appear in court seeking to be released from jail while he awaits trial.
So far, more than 725 people have been charged with playing a role in the attack that killed five people and injured more than 100 police officers. Four police officers involved in defending the Capitol later committed suicide.
The January 6 committee has made 81 subpoenas public, including those issued to top Trump aides and allies, and interviewed more than 560 witnesses. It has also sought records from social media and other telecommunication firms.
On Tuesday, it subpoenaed six people who had knowledge of or participated in unsuccessful efforts to send false “alternate electors” to Washington, DC, as part of Trump’s scheme to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.