STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Donald Trump is going to court to try to block the release of information about his final days as president of the United States. A committee subpoenaed multiple records the ex-president does not want them to see. This House committee is asking what Trump was doing and saying when a mob tried to block the ceremonial certification of Trump's defeat in the presidential election on January 6. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following the story. Ryan, good morning.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What's the ex-president's lawsuit say?
LUCAS: Well, it's challenging the January 6 select committee's efforts to get records from the Trump White House - things like White House communications, calendars, schedules. Lawmakers on the panel say they need these materials to understand what Trump was doing in the days leading up to January 6 and then on the day itself. The committee has requested presidential records, which are held by the National Archives, as well as materials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and other executive branch agencies. Now, the lawsuit alleges that the House committee's request is too broad. It says it's almost limitless in scope. It says this is a, quote, "vexatious, illegal fishing expedition" and that the committee doesn't have any legitimate legislative purpose for these documents, and therefore, it isn't entitled to them. The lawsuit also says that a lot of the information in question here is covered by one form of privilege or another, whether it be attorney-client privilege or, in many cases, executive privilege.
INSKEEP: You have just touched on a couple of legal terms there - legitimate legislative purpose. That would be the motivation, the legitimate motivation, for a House committee to subpoena documents. But then you said executive privilege, which has been brought up again and again over the years. What is it?
LUCAS: Well, in short, it's the idea that the president can keep private certain documents, discussions, deliberations with senior advisers about official duties. It's something that presidents from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have invoked over the years, and the office of the president has an institutional interest in protecting it.
INSKEEP: Yeah, and presidents from both parties, as you say, have insisted upon this. Whoever is in the White House at the time normally has a very strong view of their right to executive privilege and an assertion of executive privilege, but in this case, the existing president is not insisting on it.
LUCAS: That's right. That's right. The White House says that Trump abused his office, tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, and such actions shouldn't be shielded by executive privilege. The Biden White House did something similar earlier this month when it announced that Biden would waive executive privilege over some Trump records that these House investigators have asked for. It said the House investigation is unique; it's extraordinary. In essence, this is an instance in which the country would benefit from disclosure. Now, in this lawsuit, Trump's lawyers heartily disagree. They take aim at the Biden administration over this decision. The lawsuit says waiving privilege is, quote-unquote, "myopic," and it says Biden's decision is just a political maneuver to maintain support with his backers, and it says the decision by the Biden administration isn't based on any discernable legal principle. Now, for its part, the House committee unsurprisingly disagrees. It says executive privilege is not absolute, and it says Trump's lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct the committee's investigation.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Ryan Lucas about this House committee. It is, of course, a Democratic majority on the committee because Democrats have the majority in the House. There are a couple of Republicans also on the committee, although many Republicans have refused to have anything to do with it. And this committee is also seeking evidence from former Trump advisers, including one who is also making a claim of executive privilege - Steve Bannon. How does the lawsuit relate to Bannon's effort to avoid testifying?
LUCAS: Well, Bannon was one of the first people subpoenaed by the committee. Bannon, of course, left the administration well before January 6, but he remained in touch with Trump. And the panel says it's interested in conversations Bannon had with Trump in the weeks leading up to the Capitol attack and a meeting with Trump allies the night before. Bannon refused to comply with the committee's subpoena. In doing so, as you noted, he cited executive privilege, which is something that Trump encouraged. Bannon didn't show up for a planned deposition last week, and so this evening, the select committee is planning on voting to refer Bannon to the Justice Department for a criminal contempt investigation.
INSKEEP: Suppose they do that - what happens next?
LUCAS: It goes to the - well, the Justice Department has to decide on prosecution or not. And that's something that often, in these sorts of cases, it does not do.
INSKEEP: Ryan, thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.