Judge rejects Trump bid to block records from House probe of Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Former U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to speak during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas, Texas.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images
A federal judge on Tuesday rejected former President Donald Trump‘s attempt to block a bipartisan House select committee from obtaining White House records as part of its investigation of the deadly Capitol invasion.
Judge Tanya Chutkan said in a court order that Trump is “unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claims or suffer irreparable harm,” and that “a balance of the equities and public interest bear against” granting his request.
Trump is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., praised Chutkan’s ruling, saying in a statement that it “affirms the importance of the Select Committee’s work to get answers for the American people, recommend changes to the law to strengthen our democracy, and help ensure nothing like the attack of January 6th ever happens again.”
Chutkan’s order came less than one day after she shot down an emergency bid by Trump’s lawyer to stop the National Archives from giving documents to the congressional probe of the Jan. 6 attack.
Trump in mid-October had sued to block the select committee’s request for the archivist of the United States to hand over reams of Trump administration records. Jesse Binnall, Trump’s attorney, argued in federal court in Washington that many of the documents being sought are shielded by executive privilege, the doctrine that allows some executive branch dealings to be kept confidential.
The lawsuit was filed after President Joe Biden refused to assert executive privilege over the documents that Trump claimed were protected by it.
Chutkan’s opinion Tuesday night said she agreed with the select committee’s argument that, in disputes about executive privilege, the current president’s stance matters more than that of his or her predecessor.
“At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President,” Chutkan wrote in a 39-page opinion. “And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent’s view is accorded greater weight.”
Trump’s view “appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” Chutkan wrote. “But president are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”
“The court therefore holds that Plaintiff’s assertion of privilege is outweighed by President Biden’s decision not to uphold the privilege,” Chutkan wrote, vowing not to interfere with that function of the executive branch.
Binnall had accused the select committee members of seeking to “harass” the former president through a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.” It also railed against President Joe Biden for rejecting Trump’s privilege claims, accusing him of a “political ploy to accommodate his partisan allies.”
The select committee is tasked with investigating the facts and causes of the Jan. 6 invasion, when hundreds of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and forced a joint session of Congress to flee their chambers.
As part of its probe, the committee asked the National Archives to share a wide range of White House documents, including any communications about strategies to change Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Chutkan’s opinion said that while the records requests are broad, they do not exceed the committee’s legislative powers.
The House panel has also issued subpoenas for testimony from a growing list of Trump’s close associates. The House last month voted to hold former top Trump advisor Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the subpoena the committee had issued to him.
On Monday, the committee announced six more subpoenas to Trump’s allies, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign advisor Jason Miller and lawyer John Eastman.
A day later, the same panel unveiled 10 more subpoenas to Trump associates including former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, former senior advisor Stephen Miller and former White House personnel director John McEntee.
On Monday night, Binnall filed an emergency request for Chutkan to issue an injunction blocking the National Archives from releasing the disputed records. The archivist, David Ferriero, is set to deliver those documents to the select committee by Friday, Binnall said.
The attorney told Chutkan that if she ultimately decides not to block the committee’s request, Trump will “promptly” file an appeal. In that case, Binnall argued, Chutkan should issue an emergency injunction pending that appeal to give the appellate court time to consider it.
The lawyer, noting the Veterans Day holiday on Thursday, told Chutkan that if she did not issue an order by Wednesday, Trump would “interpret the Court’s silence as a refusal” and move to appeal to the D.C. Circuit.
“If injunctive relief is refused, the National Archives and Records Administration will produce records before judicial review is complete and before President Trump has had the opportunity to be fully and fairly heard,” Binnall wrote in the request for an emergency injunction.
Chutkan denied that request on procedural grounds shortly after midnight on Tuesday, calling it “premature” in the absence of a court order or final judgment.