Hours after Donald Trump sued the bipartisan congressional January 6 committee investigating the Capitol riot, the group of representatives in the House unanimously voted to approve the contempt of Congress citation against longtime Trump aide Steve Bannon, who has refused to cooperate with the investigation in direct defiance of a subpoena. The Democratic-controlled House is now expected to vote on Thursday to authorize the panel to refer the matter to the Department of Justice to punish Bannon for his non-compliance.
Trump is trying to block the committee's work by directing his former White House aide not to answer questions. In another bid to block Democrats from obtaining White House files related to Trump's conduct ahead of the insurrection, his legal team filed a 26-page suit in a D.C. district court on Monday.
Calling the Democratic-led probe "a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition," Trump's lawyers argued that the former president should be immunized from scrutiny by dint of executive privilege, according to Politico. The suit specifically makes mention of national archivist David Ferriero, select committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and a number of other panel members.
"In a political ploy to accommodate his partisan allies, President Biden has refused to assert executive privilege over numerous clearly privileged documents requested by the committee," Jesse R. Binnall, Trump's lawyer, wrote in the complaint.
Earlier this month, President Biden pledged that he wouldn't assert executive privilege on Trump's behalf, citing "unique and extraordinary circumstances."
"The Documents shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee's need to understand the facts," the White House said at the time.
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However, official transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee – which is leading its own probe into Trump's role in the riot – might indicate that the Department of Justice is not acting in concert to suspend executive privilege. On a related note, the DOJ has come under fire for defending Trump in two lawsuits, alleging in one that he cannot be held personally liable for defamation because of his official duties during his time in office.
Despite Monday's hiccup, the select panel appears to be steadfast in their inquiry, with Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., saying in a joint statement that "the former President's clear objective is to stop the Select Committee from getting to the facts about January 6th and his lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our probe. Precedent and law are on our side."
The duo also promised to "fight the former President's attempt to obstruct our investigation while we continue to push ahead successfully with our probe on a number of other fronts."
"As President Biden determined, the constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself," White House spokesman Mike Gwin echoed in a statement.
Legal scholars have noted that there is very little precedent for Trump's suit, suggesting that it might establish new rules around whether a current president can withhold executive privilege from a former one.
"The book of prior decisions by the courts about presidential disagreements over confidentiality is an empty book," Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, told The New York Times. "I don't think there has ever been such a case adjudicated by a court."
According to CNN, the National Archives is set to hand over materials related to the January 6 riot by early next month.