A federal judge late Tuesday rejected an attempt by former President Donald Trump to shield records from his time in office from a congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.
Trump’s lawyers argued that a request for documents sent to the U.S. archivist was “illegal, unfounded, and overbroad” and lacked a legitimate legislative purpose. They asked the court to declare the request invalid and block it.
Lawyers for Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the panel, and other members on the committee asserted the request for documents was within its jurisdiction and had a clear legislative purpose: “to understand the facts and causes surrounding the January 6 attack to develop legislation and other measures that will protect our nation from a similar assault in the future.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama nominee, sided with the defendants.
The main reason is that President Joe Biden has decided not to assert executive privilege over the requested records, including written communications and calendar entries related to Trump’s speech on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, Chutkan said in her ruling.
“Defendants acknowledge that executive privilege may extend beyond a president’s tenure in office, but they emphasize that the privilege exists to protect the executive branch, not an individual. Therefore, they argue, the incumbent president—not a former president—is best positioned to evaluate the long-term interests of the executive branch and to balance the benefits of disclosure against any effect on the ability of future executive branch advisors to provide full and frank advice. The court agrees,” she said.
While presidential conversations are presumptively privileged, the privilege is not absolute and the presumption can be overcome “by an appropriate showing of public need by the judicial or legislative branch,” Chutkan said.
With the decision, the House panel is set to receive records from Trump’s time in office on Friday.
Thompson in a statement praised the “swift and decisive ruling on the former president’s lawsuit, which I consider little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation.”
“In my view, there couldn’t be a more compelling public interest than getting answers about an attack on our democracy,” he said, adding that the panel’s probe “is moving forward swiftly and we look forward to receiving these important records from the National Archives.”
Taylor Budowich, director of communications for Trump, said that “the battle to defend executive privilege” was destined from the outset to be decided by appellate, or higher, courts.
“President Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution and the office of the presidency, & will be seeing this process through,” he wrote on Twitter.