(CNN) — Joe Biden and Donald Trump are locked in an extraordinary and growing showdown that has profound political consequences now and in 2024.
Biden took the confrontation, which was triggered by the aftermath of the insurrection in the United States Capitol, to another level on Monday by refusing to assert executive privilege on a second batch of documents that Trump wants to prevent the National Archives from turning over to the House select commission investigating the January 6 attack. The development was first reported by CNN.
There have been times in US history when former presidents have attacked and attempted to undermine their successors. Many presidents have privately expressed frustration at the antics of their predecessors. But nothing in the modern era equals the showdown between Presidents 45 and 46.
Trump is primarily responsible for that. He has convinced tens of millions of his voters that Biden is an illegitimate president through lies about voter fraud. The twice-challenged former president’s attempt to block the January 6 commission is also in line with his repeated efforts to avoid the consequences of his undemocratic behavior.
Trump’s claims that only he has the right to enforce executive privilege they also seem designed to obstruct the commission’s work with endless lawsuits and recourse across multiple courts.
Paradoxically, efforts to hold the former president to account can offer him the kind of oxygen he craves for his policy of insurrection. Trump has already filed a lawsuit to try to prevent an earlier batch of documents from reaching the commission after Biden refused to intervene. He will almost certainly add the latest material to his lawsuit, as he aims to derail the effort to investigate the origins of the massive riot he incited on January 6 and to tick the clock in hopes that Republicans will win the House next fall. and close the investigation.
The showdown with Biden will only fuel Trump’s attempts to turn efforts to investigate the tumultuous end of his presidency into fodder for a political comeback. He is already turning the 2024 midterm and presidential elections into a platform for his falsehoods that power was stolen from him in a rigged election. Trump and his allies have branded Biden’s refusal to cooperate with his lust for political power as evidence of political revenge against the former president.
However, the last thing Biden wants is a new showdown with his once and potentially future rival. Since winning the election last year, Biden has tried to unite a fractured country, even as Trump’s lies about electoral fraud and the disinformation spilled by his propagandists in the media have only exacerbated the atmosphere of fury. among “Make America Great Again” devotees.
At times, the current president has referred to his predecessor as “the old guy,” without even wanting to mention his name. And the ongoing dispute between Biden and Trump over the documents is just one of the inconclusive disputes that ensure that the poisoned legacy of the Trump presidency will endure in the United States for months and years.
No president since Gerald Ford – who eventually pardoned Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal that led him to resign – has received such a tortured legacy from an immediate predecessor. And Trump is only stoking the feverish spirits of his supporters by challenging Biden’s right to be president almost daily and inciting deepening national divisions on the basis of the lie that he won the election.
But as much as he wants to relegate Trump to the past, Biden has little incentive to obstruct the commission’s work on the basis of a procedural issue like executive privilege.
Accepting Trump’s claims that he is protecting the integrity of the presidential office would require Biden to debunk his own argument that he was elected to save American democracy, which prevailed despite an ordeal in the Trump years and during the presidential transition in January. And Trump, who regularly shatters the decorum and traditions of the presidency, didn’t seem overly concerned with protecting her in four years in the Oval Office.
But the latest escalation between Trump and Biden is also likely to further inflame the looming political conflagration in the face of Trump’s potential political comeback and even a possible presidential rematch in 2024 with his successor.
Commission seeks wide range of White House documentation
The National Archives will begin serving documents to the House committee before November 12, unless Trump gets a court order to stop the process. According to a letter from White House Counselor Dana Remus, “President Biden has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interest of the United States, and therefore not justified.”
“Consequently, President Biden does not uphold the former president’s claim of privilege,” Remus wrote.
The select committee of the House of Representatives has specifically requested all documents and communications from the White House on January 6, such as call logs, agendas and meetings of senior officials and outside advisers, including Rudy Giuliani.
The showdown over documents is not the only dispute in which Trump attempts to assert executive privilege, a doctrine under which presidents expect their advice and internal communications from advisers to be confidential. Trump has asked several former high-level aides, including former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to also claim that they are unable to comply with the commission’s subpoenas for the same reason.
The most controversial of these cases is that of Steve Bannon, who was cited last week by the House for criminal contempt of Congress. The allegations of Trump’s former political guru are viewed by legal experts as especially flimsy, as he was not a government official at the time of the Capitol uprising. And aside from his conversations with Trump, the commission wants to question him about any contact with the organizers of Trump’s rally that preceded the march on Capitol Hill on Jan.6.
According to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book “Peril,” Bannon was a key figure in a “war room” at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where Giuliani was also present, and had multiple contacts with the then president and tried to pressure then vice president Mike Pence to refuse to certify Biden’s election in Congress.
The decision whether or not to prosecute Bannon in another judicial process that could delay the commission’s work now rests with the Justice Department.
The question of the extent to which former presidents can enforce executive privilege has not been definitively proven in court, which is one reason why Trump’s claims could lead to protracted litigation and a potentially historic moment. Presidents have sometimes been open to their predecessors’ claims of executive privilege in the apparent hope that they can expect similar courtesy when they leave office.
The general practice has been for past presidents to consult with the current White House legal team and for the incumbent president to make a final decision on the privilege request. The privilege is considered to reside with the acting president, not with anyone who has held the position; hence Biden has the final say on Trump’s claims.
And few modern presidents have presented such controversial and high-profile claims of privilege as Trump, who is trying to prevent the truth about the worst attack on American democracy in generations from emerging.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism