This week will bring two big deadlines in the face-off between the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and Team Trump. The committee appears to be coming loaded for bear.
If Trump is going to officially ask President Joe Biden to assert executive privilege over Trump-era White House records, that’s going to happen this week. But the “officially ask President Joe Biden” part is important in two ways. For one thing, Trump will have to ask the guy who beat him for a favor, rather than just sending out fundraising messages to his supporters claiming that executive privilege applies. That is not going to be easy for Mr. Ego. For another thing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said it won’t happen; “The president has already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege.”
Trump can try to fight this one, but he will no longer have the Justice Department acting as his personal law firm, so he’ll have to hire lawyers (who would be well advised to demand payment upfront). Whatever precedent would say about a president trying to claim executive privilege under these circumstances, the big thing here is that Donald Trump is not the president of the United States of America. Joe Biden is, and he gets a lot of leeway to decide.
So that’s one big development slated for this week. The other is the Thursday deadline for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump aide Dan Scavino, former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon, and Trump diehard and former administration staffer Kash Patel to comply with the committee’s subpoenas and turn over documents. It’s hard to imagine any of them complying, and rather than get into lengthy civil court proceedings, committee Chair Bennie Thompson said Friday, “for those who don’t agree to come in voluntarily, we’ll do criminal referrals and let that process work out.”
A criminal referral calls on the Justice Department to investigate the possible crime. Hopefully, the Justice Department, which is engaged in hundreds of prosecutions of January 6 insurrectionists, would move quickly on that. However, it would be even nicer if Thompson was ready to have the sergeant-at-arms detain any subpoena-defiers right off the bat.
The committee is also engaged in interviews with willing witnesses and is trying to get cooperation from people who have already pleaded guilty to crimes in the Capitol attack but await sentencing. Thompson described the committee investigation as involving “five teams,” and, Politico reports, “A source familiar with the breakdown said those teams are pursuing distinct aspects of the Jan. 6 narrative. They include the campaign by Trump and his allies to pressure Pence to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory and the mobilization of extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to descend on Washington for the Jan. 6 event.”
This week will show us whether the January 6 committee is ready to play hardball or if it’s going to follow the too-familiar pattern of the Trump years where Team Trump plays out the clock every time Congress demands information.