Court Battles

Judge appears skeptical of Trump’s effort to shield Jan. 6 docs

A federal judge on Thursday seemed skeptical of former President Trump’s bid to block the Biden administration from complying with an expansive document request from the Jan. 6 House Select Committee.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan grilled one of Trump’s attorneys during a hearing on efforts to hold back the documents, suggesting she had serious reservations about granting the former president’s motion for an injunction to shield the material.

“Are you really saying that the president’s notes, talking points, telephone conversations on Jan. 6, for example, have no relation to the matter on which Congress is considering legislation?” Chutkan asked during an exchange about whether lawmakers had a valid reason to seek the documents. “The January riots happened in the Capitol; that is literally Congress’s house.”

Trump sued the select committee and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) last month after the panel requested exhaustive lists of records from the previous White House. President Biden, who under federal law is the caretaker of Trump administration records in the possession of NARA, waived executive privilege over all of the documents, clearing the way for their release to Congress.

Trump argues that his own assertions of executive privilege shield certain records from being released.

Chutkan indicated to Trump’s attorney, Justin Clark, that she was wary of the idea that a former president could override a current president’s waiver of executive privilege. 

“How should I weigh a previous president’s assertion of a privilege when the current president has said that there is none?” asked Chutkan, an Obama appointee.

Clark responded, “I think you need to weigh it by looking at each document that’s in the document that’s in dispute. I think that’s the only way to do it. I think under the Constitution, and, frankly, under the [Presidential Records Act], the only way to do this effectively … to have the former president’s right to executive privilege be heard is to have a review by the court of each document as it comes out.”

The judge appeared unwilling to go along with having the court become so heavily involved in the dispute, questioning whether it’s even required by law and what it would accomplish other than “slowing down the process.”

While Chutkan seemed wary of Trump’s effort to completely block the document request, she also expressed reservations about the breadth of documents that the select committee is seeking, which go back as far as April 2020.

“Congress certainly has broad authority to determine the facts before it decides what legislation it may enact but there has to be some limits,” she told the House’s attorney representing the committee.

Douglas Letter, the House’s general counsel, told the judge that the scope of the document request is intended to help the select committee understand the extent of Trump’s effort to undermine the 2020 election results that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“We’re talking about a whole groundswell,” Letter said. “Many of the people who were caught at the capital … have said that it was because the president asked them to come. So we want to know when did that conflict start, who was involved in it, how did it come about.”

Chutkan said she will try to issue a ruling soon. The court will likely have to take action before a Nov. 12 deadline by which NARA must begin delivering documents to the committee.

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Executive privilege Jan. 6 attack Jan. 6 Committee Joe Biden
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