Biden retreats, will shield some Trump January 6 documents

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The fight over access to former President Donald Trump’s personal papers and communications by the January 6 committee seemed to be all but over a couple of weeks ago. The question was heading to the Supreme Court after another circuit court shot down Trump’s claim of executive privilege, with no assurances that SCOTUS would definitely find in Trump’s favor. But in a somewhat surprising development, at least some of those documents will no longer be sought by the Democrats on the committee. A collection of Trump’s papers that’s being described as “hundreds of pages” will no longer be demanded, but not because of Trump’s protests. It was Joe Biden that came riding to the rescue, and the committee is agreeing to honor his wishes. (Associated Press)

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol has agreed to defer its request for hundreds of pages of records from the Trump administration, bending to the wishes of the Biden White House.

The deferral is in response to concerns by the Biden White House that releasing all the Trump administration documents sought by the committee could compromise national security and executive privilege.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly rejected former President Donald Trump’s blanket efforts to cite executive privilege to block the release of documents surrounding that day. But Biden’s White House is still working with the committee to shield some documents from being turned over.

The explanation for the change of course provided by White House deputy counsel Jonathan Su offers two reasons for this decision. The first is a potential threat to “national security,” but it’s rather hard to imagine what national security concerns could be involved here. The committee is investigating an attack on the capitol building by a mob and the response by the Capitol Hill Police and other security forces. They’re also still clinging to the idea that Trump somehow planned and coordinated the attack and that his private communications might reveal that.

The White House is saying that some of the documents involve “sensitive preparations and deliberations by the National Security Council.” I suppose that’s possible if the documents are only tangentially related to the attack, but because it happened so spontaneously, it’s tough to picture what the Council might have been deliberating in advance.

I think the second reason that Biden’s team is citing is the one that really drove this development. They are citing concerns over executive privilege. Team Biden has never shown anything that would suggest he gives two hoots for Donald Trump’s executive privilege, but it doesn’t require any great stretch of the imagination to guess that he’s quite concerned about his own. This is something that I wrote about at length back in October, advising Joe Biden to “be careful what you wish for.”

Eliminating most vestiges of executive privilege just to “own the cons” or create trouble for the Bad Orange Man might sound like fun right now, but it would also set a precedent that Biden could soon come to regret. Biden’s people can read the polls just as well as anyone else and they are no doubt aware that the GOP could very well take back the majority in one or both chambers of Congress next November. And if that happens, with executive privilege being largely a thing of the past, just imagine what sort of committees might be formed in January of 2023 and what they might choose to investigate.

Perhaps Biden has realized that such a committee might suddenly demand any and all communications between Joe and Hunter Biden or Hunter’s partners. Might there be some juicy information in there about large sums of cash arriving from China and whether or not “the Big Guy” got a piece of the action? Were there any private discussions taking place concerning how they should deal with the Tara Reade situation? What sort of advice was Biden privately receiving about the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and were there any deals made with the Taliban that we didn’t hear about?

All of that and more might be hiding in Joe Biden’s private files. And if he shoots down the concept of executive privilege for presidents, it all might come spilling out into the sunlight. With that in mind, perhaps discretion was seen as the better part of valor and allowing Donald Trump to keep his own files private might not be such a high price to pay.