Appeals Court Rejects Trump Effort to Block White House Records from House Jan.6 Committee

Appeals Court Rejects Trump Effort to Block White House Records from House Jan.6 Committee

Three-judge panel believes "President Trump has provided no basis for this court to override President Biden’s judgment"

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
|
December 9, 2021

A federal appeals court has rejected former President Donald Trump's effort to shield hundreds of his White House documents from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan.6 Capitol riot.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — Judges Patricia A. Millett, Robert L. Wilkins, and Ketanji Brown Jackson unanimously rejected Trump's request for a preliminary injunction blocking the National Archives and Records Administration from releasing over more than 750 pages of documents.

"Former President Trump has given this court no legal reason to cast aside President Biden's assessment and accommodations worked out between the Political Branches over these documents," Judge Patricia Millett wrote in a 68-page opinion for the panel.

In the decision issued Thursday, the panel upheld a lower court's decision to deny Trump's request for an injunction, which ruled at that time that a dispute between current and past President, the sitting President must prevail.

Trump filed a lawsuit in October to halt the release of White House documents from the National Archives to the Democrat-led House committee after Biden green-lit the release. Biden declined to assert executive privilege over the records — a rare move by a current president, citing "unique and extraordinary circumstances" as an excuse for the release.

Last month, District Judge Tanya Chutkan, one of the outspoken judges on the federal bench in Washington, D.C. regarding the Jan. 6 attack, refused to block the release of 750 pages out of nearly 1,600 identified by officials as relevant to the Jan. 6 investigation. In her ruling, Chutkan called the issue a "dispute a former and incumbent president," and "Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."

Trump quickly appealed the decision from Chutkan, and the D.C. Circuit fast-tracked the case.

The three judges on the panel, each appointed by either Biden or former President Barack Obama, also recognized the House select committee's right to request the documents, ruling that the panel had sufficient reason to probe the White House over the events of Jan. 6.

"As President Biden stated, the January 6th Committee has a 'sufficient factual predicate' for obtaining these presidential records, because of the President's direct role in rallying his supporters, directing them to march to the Capitol and propagating the underlying false narrative of election fraud," the opinion reads. "The House has also presented evidence indicating that leading up to Jan. 6, individuals encouraging 'dramatic action' on that day were in frequent contact with the White House."

"To allow the privilege of a no-longer-sitting President to prevail over Congress's need to investigate a violent attack on its home and its constitutional operations would 'gravely impair the basic function of the legislature," the opinion ruling added. "Weighing still more heavily against former President Trump's claim of privilege is the fact that the judgment of the Political Branches is unified as to these particular documents."

The Democratic-led House Select committee is probing Trump's communications and activities leading up to and during the Capitol riot. Trump sued the chairman of the House's Jan. 6 select committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), and the head of the National Archives, David Ferriero, in an attempt to stop the handover of executive branch records sought by the panel on the basis of former president rights to executive privilege.

The decision comes a day after Trump's former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows filed a civil complaint lawsuit against the House committee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), arguing that the panel does not have the authority to issue the subpoenas directed at him or obtain his phone records from a third party. Meadows also argued that Biden's refusal to assert executive privilege opens constitutional questions that should be decided through legal action.

House Committee chair Thompson and Vice-Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) praised the court's decision in a statement.

"We applaud the Court's decisive ruling, which respects the Select Committee's interest in obtaining White House records and the President's judgment in allowing those records to be produced," the statement reads. "Our work moves ahead swiftly. We will get to the truth."

The court paused the release of the documents for two weeks, giving Trump time to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Trump's lawyers will file an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court in an effort to block the release, the former president spokesperson Liz Harrington said.

"Regardless of today's decision by the appeals court, this case was always destined for the Supreme Court. President Trump'smp'sy to defend the Constitution and the Office of the Presidency continues, and he will keep fighting for every American and every future Administration," Harrington tweeted.

The panel gave Trump 14 days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court before the Archives could begin turning over the records.

Mona Salama

Mona Salama

Mona Salama is a political reporter for The Floridian covering Congress, the White House and Congressional elections.

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