The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is trying to collect as much information as possible, which led the panel to seek materials from the White House. It wasn't long, however, before a controversy ensued.
Donald Trump, eager to hide as much information as possible, announced plans weeks ago to cite "executive privilege" to block the select committee's requests. As NBC News recently noted, as a matter of tradition, sitting presidents have shielded White House materials at the request of their predecessors.
But not this time. NBC News reported this afternoon that President Joe Biden and his team have decided to formally block Trump's request to withhold documents from Congress.
In a letter to the National Archives obtained by NBC News, White House Counsel Dana Remus rejected Trump's attorneys' attempt to withhold documents requested by the House Select Committee regarding the then-president's activities on Jan. 6, writing that "President Biden 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 any of the documents."
"These are unique and extraordinary circumstances," Remus added. "Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the President's constitutional responsibilities. The constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield, from Congress or the public, information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself."
As a practical matter, today's decision means the White House has given the National Archives the green light to release materials — phone records, visitor logs, internal communications, etc. — to the congressional panel investigating the insurrectionist attack. It's difficult to speculate about what those documents may entail, but we know Trump did not want to give lawmakers this access.
Indeed, the former president still doesn't. As the NBC News report added, we may very well see "a legal showdown between the current and former president over executive privilege," though the Republican "faces long legal odds" since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the incumbent president "is in the best position to assess the present and future needs of the Executive Branch."
It's worth emphasizing for context that this may yet change. When the House select committee first made this request to the National Archives several weeks ago, officials began pulling together the relevant materials and then presenting them to both Trump's lawyers and the Biden White House for review.
Today's announcement applies to this first set of documents. Whether Biden's team will make a similar decision about future sets is unclear.
Regardless, today is a victory for transparency — and a major setback for Trump and his bid for Jan. 6 secrecy.