Former President Donald Trump on Monday sued the chair of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and the little-known archivist of the United States, in an attempt to stop the inquiry from using documents the former president claims are privileged.
The lawsuit—filed on Monday in the District of Columbia’s federal court by “Stop the Steal” lawyer Jesse R. Binnall—goes after Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is leading the select committee, and David S. Ferriero, who has served as the official “Archivist” of the United States since November 2009 and is in charge of keeping presidential records and documents at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit lambasts the current congressional inquiry, calling it “a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition” that “has decided to harass President Trump and senior members of his administration (among others) by sending an illegal, unfounded, and overbroad records request” for his presidential papers at the National Archives.
Trump recently triggered a showdown with the commission by instructing former aides in receipt of subpoenas from the commission—including Steve Bannon, former chief of staff and deputy chief of staff Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel, who served as acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller’s chief of staff at the time—not to comply, citing executive privilege.
Trump had previously argued that documents sought by the commission containing communications from the White House on Jan. 6 were not shielded by executive privilege.
However, his recent lawsuit claims that his successor, President Joe Biden, “has refused to assert executive privilege” in what it deems “a political play to accommodate his partisan allies.”
The petition hinges on the idea that what’s really going on is a constitutional crisis, with the legislative branch dangerously encroaching on the executive one. It claims that Biden’s willingness to step out of the way and allow the congressional investigation to move forward unimpeded “will undoubtedly cause sustainable injury and irreparable harm to future presidential administrations.”
It rehashes some of the same arguments that Trump put forward years ago when trying to stop Democrats in Congress from getting access to his tax returns. And to do that, the lawsuit extensively cites the very same U.S. Supreme Court “Mazars” decision that saved him in 2020, when liberal and conservative justices came together to warn about the “significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information.”
The lawsuit also hints at the potential for future scandals regarding Trump-era personnel changes at the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the military.
The court document preemptively offers a defense of Trump’s placement of certain people in these departments by noting that “all members of these departments and agencies serve at the pleasure of the President.”
The lawsuit filed on Monday cites the U.S. laws that empower the nation’s archivist to determine what government records deserve to be preserved—as long as they’re “in the public interest.” Trump’s move appears to be an attempt to assert control over his presidential records as they make their way into the National Archives.
The lawsuit notes that, before Trump left, he had locked away presidential records from the public eye for the maximum amount of time allowed by law: 12 years.
The former president is asking for a federal judge to invalidate the Jan. 6 committee’s requests, prevent legislators from punishing those who don’t comply with the investigation, or block the archivist from turning over records. If those efforts fail, Trump’s legal team is asking for a chance to review the records—and narrow down the ones it believes should be turned over.
Of the four aides Trump has instructed to ignore subpoenas, thus far only Bannon has publicly vowed not to comply with congressional demands.
Bannon has perhaps the weakest claims to executive privilege, given that he left government service over four years ago when Trump fired him after a mere eight months serving in the White House.
President Biden has suggested that the Justice Department should prosecute Bannon should he continue to defy congressional subpoenas, but the Justice Department has insisted it will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions "based solely on the facts and the law,” according to a statement released after Biden’s comments.
The suit marks yet another chapter in the legal fallout over Trump’s alleged role in inciting the Capitol riot that sought to overturn the 2020 election and undo the former president’s loss to Joe Biden. Two separate lawsuits by Democratic members of Congress have accused Trump, along with Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), and members of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys of conspiring to deprive Americans of their civil rights by obstructing the counting of electoral college votes.
Thompson, who brought the first civil rights suit against Trump for his alleged role in inciting the riot, removed himself as the lead plaintiff in the case in July following his appointment as chair of the Jan. 6 inquiry.
Trump’s lawyer Binnall, who previously helped him sue to overturn Nevada’s 2020 election results, has publicly expressed disgust for lukewarm Republicans and has become the lead attorney for Jan. 6-related lawsuits against the former president. He represents Trump in the civil rights suits filed by Reps. Thompson and Swalwell, as well as a suit filed by Capitol police officers who accuse Trump of inciting the rioters who injured them in scuffles at the Capitol.