President Biden said Friday that the Justice Department should prosecute those who defy subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, the most he has weighed in on possible consequences for aides of former president Donald Trump who have refused to comply with the panel’s demands.
The bipartisan panel is investigating the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob trying to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral college win, an attack that resulted in five deaths and left some 140 members of law enforcement injured.
The committee has subpoenaed records and testimony about activities related to the Jan. 6 insurrection from several former Trump advisers, including Mark Meadows, Kash Patel, Dan Scavino and Stephen K. Bannon. Through an attorney, Trump has instructed those advisers not to comply, arguing that such records are protected by “executive and other privileges.”
When asked Friday if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse the committee’s subpoenas, Biden responded, “I do. Yes.”
Shortly after Biden’s remarks, the Justice Department tried to distance itself from any implications the White House was influencing decisions there.
“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Friday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, too, later sought to clarify Biden’s comments and emphasize the separation between the branches of government.
“As [Biden] has said many times, January 6th was one of the darkest days in our democracy,” Psaki tweeted Friday night. “He supports the work of the committee and the independent role of the Department of Justice to make any decisions about prosecutions.”
Trump has said he will exert “executive privilege” to resist any cooperation with the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, banking on a legal theory that has successfully allowed presidents and their aides to avoid or delay congressional scrutiny for decades.
As a former president, Trump would need the Biden administration to assert executive privilege. Biden, however, has indicated he will probably share with Congress information about Trump’s activities on Jan. 6 if asked.
For nearly a year, Trump has baselessly claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, and the former president has continued to push Republican-led audits of election results and sow doubt in the integrity of elections in the country.
On Thursday, the committee said it will move to hold Bannon in criminal contempt for not complying with its subpoena. Bannon was a former White House chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump.
“The Select Committee will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed,” committee chairman Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement then.
The panel has opted to give other former Trump officials more time to comply with its subpoenas.
Meadows and Patel were both scheduled to appear before the committee by the end of this week for closed-door interviews and are now expected to be provided an extension or continuance, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.
Meadows served as Trump’s chief of staff at the end of his administration, and Patel served as chief of staff to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller on Jan. 6.
Because the delivery of the subpoena to Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief, was delayed, the committee postponed his scheduled deposition this week, a select committee aide said.
Devlin Barrett, Jacqueline Alemany, Tom Hamburger and Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.