Within days, the U.S. Marshals Service, which oversees federal detainees, opened an inquiry into the jail and soon determined, among other things, that there were sewage and water leaks inside and that corrections officers often antagonized their charges, sometimes withholding food and water for “punitive reasons.”
The most serious problems, the marshals found, were in an older part of the jail complex called the Central Detention Facility, not in the Correctional Treatment Facility, where all of the Jan. 6 defendants are held.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and a move to hold Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
What is executive privilege? It is a power claimed by presidents under the Constitution to prevent the other two branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive branch information, especially confidential communications involving the president or among his top aides.
What is Trump’s claim? Former President Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the disclosure of White House files related to his actions and communications surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He argues that these matters must remain a secret as a matter of executive privilege.
Is Trump’s privilege claim valid? The constitutional line between a president’s secrecy powers and Congress’s investigative authority is hazy. Though a judge rejected Mr. Trump’s bid to keep his papers secret, it is likely that the case will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Is executive privilege an absolute power? No. Even a legitimate claim of executive privilege may not always prevail in court. During the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring President Richard M. Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes.
May ex-presidents invoke executive privilege? Yes, but courts may view their claims with less deference than those of current presidents. In 1977, the Supreme Court said Nixon could make a claim of executive privilege even though he was out of office, though the court ultimately ruled against him in the case.
Is Steve Bannon covered by executive privilege? This is unclear. If any contempt finding against Mr. Bannon evolves into legal action, it would raise the novel legal question of whether or how far a claim of executive privilege may extend to communications between a president and an informal adviser outside of the government.
What is contempt of Congress? It is a sanction imposed on people who defy congressional subpoenas. Congress can refer contempt citations to the Justice Department and ask for criminal charges. Mr. Bannon could be held in contempt if he refuses to comply with a subpoena that seeks documents and testimony.
After a report by the marshals was released, complaints by the riot inmates, if anything, got louder. In late October, a “cry for help” by one of the defendants, Nathan DeGrave, was released on Twitter. It referred to the D.C. jail as “Gitmo” and accused jail officials of subjecting the “Jan 6ers” to “psychological and mental abuse.”
One week later, Ms. Greene went to the jail and met with the defendants, later noting that they gather every night before retiring to bed to sing the national anthem. After her inspection, Ms. Greene appeared on a podcast hosted by the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon and declared that conditions in the jail were far worse than those facing homeless people or terrorists.
Amid these expressions of outrage, it was never mentioned that the jail had been plagued with problems long before the Jan. 6 defendants got there. Six years ago, for instance, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs issued a report calling the conditions at the jail “appalling.” The troubles have been so persistent that this year, a local task force released a plan to close the facility and replace it with a new one.
Activists in Washington who have dedicated years to solving problems at the jail seemed grateful, in a sense, that the issue was finally getting the attention it deserved. But some expressed concern that officials who appeared at the public hearing, which took place on Wednesday, were feigning ignorance about the longstanding predicament.
Patrice Sulton, the executive director of the DC Justice Lab, an organization that advocates criminal justice reform, said she was particularly frustrated that it took complaints from the recently arrived Jan. 6 defendants, most of whom are white, to get the authorities to focus on the plight of detainees at the jail, almost all of whom are Black.
“It just doesn’t sit well,” Ms. Sulton said.