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A flurry of subpoenas targeting top lieutenants and a court affirming lawmakers' investigating powers have sent Donald Trump a decisive message as he seeks to run down the clock on the January 6 insurrection probe: you cannot escape justice forever.
The former president suffered a stinging legal blow late Tuesday when a federal court in Washington rejected his effort to block documents and other information requested by lawmakers probing the deadly attack on the Capitol.
Meanwhile the investigation's shift from focusing on security failures to targeting big names in Trump's orbit has demonstrated a new spotlight on his role in a plot to spread lies about the 2020 election being stolen and prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's victory, leading to the violence.
David Greenberg, a journalism and history professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said it was impossible to predict the political effect of the latest developments for Trump, who escaped conviction twice after being impeached and emerged largely unscathed from several federal misconduct investigations.
"But the investigation is important for more direct, material, and concrete reasons," he told AFP.
"It is already establishing a fuller and more comprehensive picture of who in Trump's administration and orbit was involved in the planning of the January 6 riot, what they did to bring it about, and what they hoped or expected would happen."
The first batch of documents related to the assault is now set to be turned over to House investigators by Friday unless a court intervenes, although Trump's attorneys have already made clear they will appeal, holding up the release.
- 'Presidents are not kings' -
It was made possible when District Judge Tanya Chutkan contended that Biden, who is opposing Trump's demands, is "best positioned" to determine if a former president can keep Oval Office conversations with advisors secret.
"At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent president. And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent’s view is accorded greater weight," Chutkan said in a 39-page decision.
"[Trump's] position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power 'exists in perpetuity'... But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president."
Chutkan also ruled that the House panel's probe was serving a "valid legislative purpose," rejecting another argument by Trump's legal team to challenge the authority of the investigation.
The case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, meaning investigators would not see the disputed evidence any time soon.
"The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future -- from its outset -- was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts," Trump's spokesman tweeted in reaction to the ruling.
"Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through."
But Bennie Thompson, who chairs the nine-member select committee, hailed the decision as a victory for lawmakers conducting investigations involving the White House.
- 'Decisive ruling' -
"The select committee appreciates the court's swift and decisive ruling on the former president's lawsuit, which I consider little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation," Thompson said in a statement.
"The presidential records we requested from the National Archives are critical for understanding the terrible events of January 6."
The court decision was the latest in a whirlwind of activity by the House January 6 select committee, which dramatically accelerated efforts this week to compel testimony from Trump's inner circle.
The committee has interviewed more than 150 witnesses and issued 35 subpoenas, including 16 this week alone, many to former aides who had front row seats to the chaotic final weeks of Trump's presidency as he sought to cling to power.
Many held sensitive posts inside the West Wing, including White House advisor Stephen Miller and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, both of whom made false statements promoting Trump's baseless claims of 2020 voter fraud.
Other targets include campaign aides and law professor John Eastman, who crafted a six-step blueprint setting out how the Trump team could disregard the will of millions of voters and reverse the election.
The committee's investigators have also interviewed former Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who was at the center of Trump's pressure campaign to get the department to interfere in the election.
Liz Cheney, the top Republican on the committee, has said Trump's pressure on allies to defy subpoenas showed he was "personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6."
She warned Tuesday that the 45th president presents an unprecedented threat as he attempts to "unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic, aided by political leaders who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man."