The January 6 Committee: Executive Privilege, Contempt, Unwilling Witnesses

by Elpidio R. Estioko

The January 6 congressional committee, composed of Democrats and two GOP lawmakers, investigating the assault of the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, continue to function and deliberate on what happened during the incident despite legal opposition.

The committee believes that the American people need to know what transpired at that time, so they are addressing the issue discreetly and judiciously.

They initially summoned 12 close allies of former President Donald Trump to testify but they are facing problems of their appearance before the committee. Until now, Trump is still invoking executive privilege for his former allies not to testify and keeping the January 6 executive records secret.

Aside from the testimonies of witnesses, the January 6 committee is seeking hundreds of pages of records from Trump’s final months in the White House including White House visitor logs, schedules, call records and handwritten notes from Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The committee is also seeking emails between Trump advisers about contesting the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, the committee has requested photos and videos relating to Trump’s public comments on January 6, “when he made a fiery speech to the rally falsely claiming that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud.”

Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Select Committee, told CNN that “the ruling allows it to see outtakes of a video Trump filmed on January 6 as the riots were unfolding.”

In that video, Trump urged supporters to “go home in peace,” but also “we love you, you’re very special.”

He also repeated multiple false claims about the election being stolen.Thompson told CNN Trump filmed the video six times because his advisers thought he was not forceful enough in telling the rioters to go home.

Trump has invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that presidents have used to keep their communications confidential.

Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan, who gave a forceful rejection of President Donald Trump’s recent attempts to block his White House documents from going to the House January 6 committee said in her decision that the public interest in figuring out what happened on January 6 outweighs Trump’s privilege claim, adding that deference must be showed to President Joe Biden’s determination that the Trump records should be released.

“The legislative and executive branches believe the balance of equities and public interest is well served by the Select Committee’s inquiry,” Chutkan wrote in her decision.

“The court will not second guess the two branches of government that have historically negotiated their own solutions to congressional requests for presidential documents.”

“Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” Chutkan added.

Trump has asked an appeals court to issue a temporary ruling, known as a “stay,” blocking the National Archives from turning over the documents to the Select Committee.

The purpose of the requested stay would be to allow Trump to appeal Chutkan’s decision.

Unless there is a court order instructing it not to, the National Archives has said it will send the documents to the committee on November 12.

Another set of twenty new subpoenas are going out “soon” was signed by the chair of the January 6 committee. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the select committee told reporters that he has signed about twenty subpoenas and that they are going out “soon.”

Thompson would not confirm if former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who CNN has reported the committee plans to subpoena, is a part of that group. Also, when asked if there are lawmakers the committee is planning to subpoena, the Mississippi Democrat said: “Not yet.”

Thompson’s update comes after the committee has already issued rounds of subpoenas to a variety of individuals including some of former President Donald Trump’s closest allies and individuals involved in the organization of rallies and events that preceded the riot.

Separately Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who serves as the vice-chair of the committee, told CNN that the panel has also interviewed more than 150 people, indicating that much of its investigation is developing behind closed doors. Cheney said the committee has talked with “a full range of people,” some in interviews and others in depositions.

According to Vanity Fair writer Eric Lutz, the January 6 committee is finally getting Trump allies to spill. Now that Trump is no longer the president, things have changed. Democrats’ subpoenas are now harder to ignore with the threat of contempt and criminal charges.

The House recently passed a resolution that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon be held in contempt of Congress and asked the Department of Justice to pursue criminal prosecution over Bannon’s refusal to cooperate with the January 6 committee.

There are developing events leading to witnesses cooperating with the committee. CNN reported that at least five former Trump staffers have provided information to the committee investigating January 6, either because they “believe they have information worth sharing” or simply to preempt a potential subpoena.

Among those who have come forward: Alyssa Farah, the former Mike Pence spokesperson who quit as White House communications director in December 2020 because she “saw where this was heading.”

“The president and certain advisers around him are directly responsible,” she told Politico the day after the Capitol attack.

In addition to those who have voluntarily spoken with the committee, congressional investigators are reaching out to other former White House staffers to solicit compliance.

“I’ve got good reason to believe a number of them are horrified and scandalized by what took place on January 6 and they want to do their legal duty and their civic duty by coming forward to explain exactly what happened,” Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin told CNN.

“We’re going to continue to encourage everybody who has relevant information to come and talk, people connected to the events.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the top Republican on the select committee, said that the panel spoke to “a full range of people connected to the events, connected to understanding what happens.” Cheney did not elaborate or specify who exactly has been interviewed so far in the committee’s investigation.

Footages of the January 6 event are shown on television now and then. While watching Trump’s-inspired supporters staging a riot in the Capitol while Congress was in session, I was reminded of a reality movie Under Siege starring Steven Seagal.

I thought it was a reality television program. I was wrong! It was real!

No less than our president is directing the siege and inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol and seize power. That is outrageous!

Is this the kind of president we have? Why can’t he not just accept the reality that he lost and pave the way for a peaceful transition and move on?

The violence on January 6 led to five deaths, including a police officer who died in the line of duty!

The New York Times described it as a deadly siege… and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the unthinkable. The crowd is acting in response to Trump’s instructions to storm the lawmakers place of work.

Will the January 6 committee be able to uncover the truth?

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO, was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.


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