Court Battles

Supreme Court deals final blow to Trump bid to stymie Jan. 6 panel

The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a final appeal by former President Trump in his dispute with congressional investigators pursuing his administration’s records as part of the probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The court’s move represented a finishing blow — at least for now — to Trump’s months-long legal bid to block lawmakers from obtaining schedules, call logs, emails and other White House documents the committee says it needs to flesh out the circumstances surrounding the deadly pro-Trump Capitol riot.

The defeat also likely lays to rest the concern that Trump might make use of a drain-the-clock litigation strategy to stymie the Jan. 6 probe. Trump wielded the approach effectively as president, using a range of delay tactics to drag out lawsuits, hamper investigators and fend off records requests.

“While there is a nontrivial chance Mr. Trump may again try to block release of records through new litigation, the resolution of this case arguably should spell the end of this particular obstacle for the Jan. 6 committee’s effort to receive presidential records,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer and partner in the Law Office of Mark S. Zaid. 

“On the horizon, however, lays the more difficult issue for the committee of whether to subpoena Mr. Trump and his family in an effort to compel actual testimony,” Moss added.

The justices’ ruling, which came in a brief unsigned order issued without comment, comes after the Supreme Court denied Trump’s emergency request to block the transfer of his White House records from the National Archives to the House select committee, a process that began last month.

The order leaves intact a lower federal appeals court ruling that found Trump’s assertion of executive privilege and other legal theories unpersuasive in light of President Biden’s refusal to invoke the privilege, as well as the House panel’s pressing task.

Trump turned to the Supreme Court in December after lower federal courts rejected his requests to halt the National Archives from passing along his administration’s records. His attorneys had asked the justices to shield the disputed materials from disclosure while they considered his formal appeal.

Trump’s lawyers, in court papers, had also pushed back on the committee’s claim that a protracted legal fight threatens to undermine its work.

“Respondents will not be harmed by delay,” Trump’s attorneys wrote, referring to the House panel. “Despite their insistence that the investigation is urgent, more than a year has passed since January 6, 2021. Years remain before the next transition of power.”

“The Committee and the Court have time to make a swift but measured analysis of these important issues and make sure that in the rush to conduct its investigation, the Committee does not do irreparable structural damage in the process,” they added.

The justices, however, rebuffed Trump’s emergency request in a Jan. 19 ruling. Within hours, the House select committee began receiving records, a development that panel Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) hailed as “a victory for the rule of law and American democracy.”

Last month’s ruling came in an unsigned, one-paragraph order. Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch conservative, was alone in indicating that he would have granted Trump’s request.

The justices wrote that although the unprecedented dispute between a former president and lawmakers raised “serious and substantial concerns,” the Washington, D.C.-based federal appeals court had suitably analyzed the issues at hand.

“Because the Court of Appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision,” the court wrote.

The Jan. 6 attack saw the deaths of four people, all Trump supporters, including a woman shot by Capitol Police. Separately, a Capitol Police officer suffered a fatal stroke a day after sustaining injuries in the riot, and four other law enforcement officers who responded that day have since died by suicide.

Nearly 800 rioters face charges.

The court’s move Tuesday not only marked a denial of Trump’s formal request for appeal, it also sent what is likely to be the final signal that the courts would not intervene at Trump’s request, as the judiciary so often did when he was president.

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump himself has remained mum on the Supreme Court’s rulings against him, though he has previously not shied away from criticizing decisions he disagrees with, or even calling out justices by name.

Had the court acted on either of Trump’s requests, it could have set in motion the kind of protracted court fight Trump waged while in the White House, often mounting one appeal after another, with cases sometimes ping-ponging between the district court, intermediate appellate court and Supreme Court — then back again.

For instance, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. (D) obtained a grand jury subpoena for Trump’s tax returns in August 2019. But it took his office 18 months of fighting Trump in the courts before Vance finally obtained the documents in February of last year.

By the time Trump left office in January 2021, numerous cases against him and his administration still hung in the balance.

The prospect of Trump mounting a lengthy court battle against the Jan. 6 investigators had raised fears among some experts that he might once again drag out the legal process to his advantage.

Although Trump’s litigation has been brought to a timely conclusion, the committee faces separate legal challenges to its investigative authority in ongoing court clashes with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as well as Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich and post-election legal adviser John Eastman.

The Jan. 6 committee has not established a hard deadline for completing its investigation, but Thompson has said the panel hopes to wrap up by early spring. The upcoming midterm elections, which many expect to hand control of the House to Republicans, who would be likely to shut down the committee’s operations, present the panel with a de facto January deadline. 

Tags Bennie Thompson Capitol breach Capitol insurrection Capitol riot Clarence Thomas Donald Trump Jan. 6 Capitol attack Jan. 6 capitol riot Jan. 6 Committee Joe Biden Liz Cheney Mark Meadows
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