A federal judge has denied Donald Trump’s request to stop White House records from being turned over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — a decision the former president’s lawyers appealed almost immediately.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington issued a 36-page ruling late Tuesday that declined to issue the preliminary injunction Trump sought. The National Archives and Records Administration has said it would give the first batch of records to the House on Friday absent a court order.
But Trump’s lawyers already indicated that they will ask the courts to stop that from happening while they appeal Chutkan’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, amid concerns that Congress will publicly release the records.
In one filing in the case, Trump’s attorneys contend that such weighty questions about the release of presidential records should be decided by a full judicial review, and not a “race against the clock.”
“The disagreement between an incumbent President and his predecessor from a rival political party highlights the importance of executive privilege and the ability of presidents and their advisers to reliably make and receive full and frank advice, without concern that communications will be publicly released to meet a political objective,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.
The House Jan. 6 panel requested records related to dozens of people, both in and out of the Trump administration. That includes Trump and his family members, as well as “any documents and communications involving White House personnel and any Member of Congress” related to the Jan. 6 attack or the validity of the presidential election.
Chutkan wrote in the decision that this is the first time in the past 40 years that the courts are asked to decide a case where a former president asserts executive privilege over White House records when the sitting president has refused to do so.
Although the lawsuit is about the attack on the Capitol during the counting of electoral votes, Chutkan wrote, the case involves purely legal questions that are comparatively narrow in scope.
“At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President,” the decision states. “And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent’s view is accorded greater weight.”
“The District Court has delivered an important victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and the American people, in ruling to decisively reaffirm the House’s broad investigatory powers and to reject the past President’s attempted obstruction of the investigation into the deadly January 6th insurrection,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “No one can be allowed to stand in the way of the truth – particularly not the previous President, who instigated and encouraged the insurrection,” she added.
Chutkan wrote that Trump does not acknowledge that the current president gets deference on a judgment about whether disclosure of the records will harm the executive branch.
“His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,’” Chutkan wrote. “But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”
Chutkan found that Congress has a legitimate legislative purpose to seek the records, even on such a broad requestion. And the judge wrote that the legislative and executive branches agree that the nation’s interest is best served by a disclosure to Congress, and courts should not step into that.
“The court holds that the public interest lies in permitting — not enjoining — the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again,” Chutkan wrote.
Chutkan also said she will not second-guess President Joe Biden’s decision not to assert executive privilege after Trump’s lawyers suggested that the judge undertake a document-by-document review. That would require the courts “to engage in a function reserved squarely for the Executive.”
At a hearing in the case last week, House General Counsel Doug Letter said the committee wants to know how much of an effort to discredit the results of the 2020 election came from inside the White House, or from members of Congress, or from outside groups such as the Proud Boys.
Chris Marquette contributed to this report.