'Rewrite history:' Trump and allies downplay Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump and some of his allies defied a congressional committee investigating the insurrection Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, challenging subpoenas and refusing to provide records or testimony about what happened on that infamous day. --
Trump and associates play down how their supporters attacked the Capitol in an unsuccessful effort to stop the counting of electoral votes confirming Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election.
“The clear intent in the Trump Republican Party is to rewrite history whenever possible and to do everything within their power to circumvent actual oversight and accountability," said Bradley Moss, a national security attorney.
'Executive privilege will be defended'
Trump supports his aides' refusal to supply information about their interactions with him to what a spokesperson called the "highly partisan" and "communist-style" select committee investigating Jan. 6.
"Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of President Trump and his administration but also on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our nation," said Taylor Budowich, communication director for Trump's political action committee, Save America.
In a tweet Friday, Budowich said Trump "has instructed individuals to honor conversations and documents covered by the executive privilege to the extent permissible by law" and "has in no way told people not to comply" with subpoenas.
Norm Eisen, executive chair of the States United Democracy Center, said he suspects the courts won't agree with Trump's claims of executive privilege.
“The latest examples of his efforts to distort, obscure and obstruct what happened on that terrible day are his bogus claims that executive privilege prevents compliance with the lawful subpoenas the 1/6 committee has issued," Eisen said. "If tested in court, these spurious arguments will be brushed aside as so many others have been by judges, including those he appointed. It is fair to ask why he so badly does not want the truth about that day to come out.”
Last month, the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 subpoenaed former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and former Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Kash Patel. The subpoenas required the four to produce relevant documents by Thursday, Oct. 7.
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The committee could go to court to compel witnesses familiar with Trump's actions Jan. 6 to produce documents and testify.
Friday, the day after the subpoena deadline, a congressional statement said Meadows and Patel "are, so far, engaging with the Select Committee," but it did not explain how. Committee leaders said Bannon "indicated" he will "hide behind vague references" to Trump executive privilege. They did not mention Scavino.
"The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony," said the statement from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee chair, and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair.
They said, “Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral."
In a letter to the Jan. 6 committee, Bannon lawyer Robert Costello said his client would not comply with the panel’s demands for documents and testimony. Costello cited a letter from Trump’s counsel, Justin Clark, directing Bannon to refuse the requests: "We must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege."
'A half-step away' from a constitutional crisis
In the nine months since the storming of the U.S. Capitol, Trump and his allies have downplayed the actions of their supporters in public speeches, written statements and media interviews, revolving around Trump's false claims of election fraud.
In a statement this week, Trump denounced the "Unselect Committee" conducting the investigation and called Jan. 6 "a day of protesting the Fake Election results."
On that day, mobs of Trump supporters smashed their way into the Capitol, breaking doors and windows, roaming the hallways and ransacking offices. They beat police officers and threatened lawmakers gathered to certify Biden's victory in the Electoral College.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also investigating the riot, issued a report Thursday that said Trump pushed his election fraud lies by pressuring the Justice Department to investigate state election procedures and overturn the results in places he lost.
"This report reveals that we were only a half-step away from a full blown constitutional crisis," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
House committee 'will continue our work'
Thompson, D-Miss., the Jan. 6 House committee chairman, said the Senate report shows "the lengths to which the former president and his associates went trying to overturn the 2020 election."
"The Select Committee will continue our work to get answers for the American people about what happened on Jan. 6th and to make sure nothing like that day ever happens again,” he said.
That could depend on how long it will take to get information from Trump allies defying committee subpoenas, a process likely to involve court action, said Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department.
The pace will be dictated by "how quickly the courts are willing to adjudicate Trump’s executive privilege claims," Miller said.
Trump is also trying to block committee attempts to get the National Archives to release White House records that might shed light on his activities before, during and after the attack Jan. 6.
In asserting executive privilege, Trump essentially argues that Congress has no right to review internal White House discussions, even after a president leaves office.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the committee, threatened contempt charges against those who defy subpoenas, saying "noncompliance with Congress invites criminal sanctions."
The House committee also subpoenaed 11 people involved in planning the mass rally near the White House that Trump addressed before a march to the U.S. Capitol and the subsequent violence Jan. 6. Thursday, the committee announced it is subpoenaing organizers of another rally that day, one near the Capitol.
In an interview on Fox News in July, Trump claimed he gave "a very mild-mannered speech" at the political rally. He said the marchers were "peaceful people," and "there was such love at that rally."
Federal prosecutors charged more than 600 people in more than 40 states with participating in the riot at the Capitol, and there are new arrests almost daily.
Some of the rioters cried out, "Hang Mike Pence," referring to the vice president who refused Trump's request that he rule out electoral votes in certain states that favored Biden. Pence said he lacked the legal authority to take such action.
This past week, Pence said the media is harping on the incident – "one day in January" – to attack Trump and his voters and avoid talking about the Biden administration.
“They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020," Pence told Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Miller noted that some Republicans criticized Trump in the immediate aftermath of attack. Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting the riot; seven GOP senators voted to convict him.
Two of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump – Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois – are on the Jan. 6 investigation commission. Cheney's criticism of Trump's actions triggered her expulsion from House Republican leadership. The former president backs her challenger in a Wyoming primary.
In the months since Jan. 6, Miller said, "Trump has slowly but surely tried to rewrite the history of the day, and he is dragging the entire Republican Party into agreement with him."
An election issue?
Republican attempts to downplay the insurrection are working their way into the 2022 elections. J.D. Vance, locked in a competitive Republican primary for an Ohio Senate seat, told Time magazine that "there were some bad apples on Jan. 6, very clearly, but most of the people there were actually super peaceful."
Jazmin Vargas, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Republican candidates "are obsessed with appeasing Donald Trump, and in the process they're showing how deeply out of touch they are with the voters."
Adam Laxalt, seeking a Senate seat in Nevada, described the insurrection as "that fateful day in January, where they pulled him (Trump) off of social media and pulled him off of Twitter," casting the riot as part of an effort by the left to silence conservatives.
Moss said delay is the overarching goal.
"Their hope is they can tie the issue up in litigation for months until after the midterms," Moss said. "If the Democrats lose the House in 2022, the Select Committee will end, and those aides will never have to answer to Congress for what they did.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson