Trump instructs former aides to defy subpoenas issued by panel probing US Capitol riot

A mob of supporters of then-US president Donald Trump climb through a window they broke as they storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Former president Donald Trump is instructing four top former aides to defy subpoenas to turn over records and testify to a select congressional committee investigating the Jan 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

The former aides - White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino, Defence Department official Kashyap Patel, and adviser Steve Bannon - face a Thursday deadline to comply with the subpoenas. Any refusal would set up a potential legal battle with the House committee.

The Sept 23 subpoenas demanded all four produce emails, telephone records and other documents. Meadows and Scavino also have been instructed in their subpoenas to appear at depositions in Oct 15 and Patel and Bannon, a day earlier, on Oct 14.

In a letter viewed by Bloomberg, a Trump lawyer says that the testimony and records sought by the committee is protected by executive privilege and other immunities.

"President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court," the letter says.

The presidential aides are also immune from being forced to testify on their official responsibilities, the letter said. Trump said in a statement that month that, "We will fight the Subpoenas on Executive privilege, for the good of our country."

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the former aides had been instructed to defy the subpoenas.

Each of the former Trump aides have been described by the committee as having knowledge of key details and events before, during and after the siege. Panel members have said Trump's own activities that day are a central focus of their inquiry.

A refusal to comply with the subpoenas would be a major test for the committee, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the siege of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters as Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

A spokesman for the select committee, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, declined to immediately comment on what the panel planned to do in response to a refusal of the four witnesses to comply with the subpoenas.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and others on the panel have said previously that the committee might recommend criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for those who refuse to cooperate.

Trump and some of his GOP allies in Congress have accused the committee of focusing on the former president to gain political advantage in the 2022 congressional election and to distract from what they say are the failures of the Biden administration.

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The assertion of executive privilege is generally intended to allow the White House to decline demands for records and some testimony to facilitate candid discussions between a president and advisers.

The instruction to not comply mirrors previous legal tactics by Trump and his allies while he was still in the White House.

Trump had ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena for his testimony from another committee, a two-year battle that ended with no clear-cut legal victory for either side.

McGahn ultimately did end up testifying to the House Judiciary Committee in June about the whether Trump tried to head off a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But he was questioned behind closed doors, and limits were set on what he could be asked.

Now Trump is no longer in office, President Joe Biden's administration has said it would work to comply with the committee's document requests for records held by the National Archives.

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