U.S. Supreme Court allows committee investigating January 6 uprisings to obtain Trump White House documents
The court order means more than 700 documents will be transferred to Congress that could shed light on the events leading up to the insurrection when hundreds of rioters converged on Capitol Hill to try to prevent certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Only Judge Clarence Thomas has said publicly that he would have granted former President Donald Trump’s request to block the release of National Archives documents to the House Select Committee.
No other judge made a public objection.
The Biden White House supports releasing the records to the committee, after determining that disclosure is in the best interests of the nation and declining to assert executive privilege.
The select committee is seeking more than 700 pages of disputed documents as it explores Trump’s role in the attempt to nullify the 2020 presidential election.
That includes his appearance at a Jan. 6 rally where he ordered his supporters to the U.S. Capitol where lawmakers were to certify election results and “fight” for their counties.
The documents include activity logs, schedules, speech notes and three pages of handwritten notes from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, documents that could reveal events inside the West Wing as Trump supporters rallied in Washington and then stormed the Capitol, disrupting certification of the 2020 ballot.
Trump is also seeking to keep secret a draft proclamation honoring two police officers who died in the siege and memos and other documents about alleged voter fraud and efforts to reverse Trump’s loss of the presidency, the National Archives said. in court documents.
The House committee, the White House, the National Archives and Trump’s attorneys did not respond to CNN’s inquiries about the Supreme Court order.
This decision effectively calls into question the former Trump’s ongoing appeal in the case which concerned the secrecy of the documents. Trump’s lawyers say the documents are sensitive and privileged records.
“The disagreement between an incumbent president and his predecessor from a rival political party is both novel and underscores the importance of executive privilege and the ability of presidents and their advisers to reliably give and receive full and candid advice, without fear that the communications will be released to serve a political purpose,” Trump attorney Jesse R. Binnall told the judges.
He pointed out that Congress had no valid legislative purpose for requesting the documents.
“Congress cannot dig into a former president’s confidential presidential documents to respond to political objections,” Binnall added.
But the Biden administration has argued that withholding records on the basis of executive privilege is not in the interests of the United States.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that in light of the “extraordinary events” of January 6, President Biden has decided that an assertion of executive privilege is “not warranted.”
A federal appeals court ruled against Trump, finding that he “provided no basis for this court to overturn President Biden’s judgment and the agreement and accommodations reached between the political branches on these documents.”
The court noted that the events “marked the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812,” but agreed to freeze its decision until the Supreme Court acts.
“According to one of the tests advocated by former President Trump, the deep interests of disclosure advanced by President Biden and the January 6 Committee far outweigh his widespread concerns for executive secrecy,” the panel wrote. of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. .
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court cited part of that sentence.
“Because the Court of Appeals found that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former president did not necessarily make any difference to the court’s decision,” the court said. supreme.
Tonight’s ruling is a major setback for former President Trump in his efforts to prevent the National Archives from turning over documents to the Jan. 6 Committee,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“While the judges did not rule on whether the appeals court properly dismissed his complaint, by not blocking the postponement now, the judges allowed that decision to be the final word.”
January 6: The day that shook American democracy
Implications for the House inquiry
The Supreme Court order is a blow to Trump, at a time when the select committee is gaining momentum as it gathers information from hundreds of witnesses and communications providers.
It could also send a signal to other witnesses that they have very little opportunity to challenge Jan. 6-related subpoenas on grounds of executive privilege, potentially opening up the possibility for more former White House officials. to testify.
The Supreme Court left key questions unresolved about an ex-president’s ability to claim executive privilege, saying top Trump advisers had a history of withholding or withholding testimony in the House.
Currently, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is challenging the committee’s Jan. 6 subpoenas, in part because he said questions about Trump’s ability to assert privilege in the investigation as a former president remain unresolved.
He also faces a five-week-old criminal contempt remand from the House to the Justice Department, though the DOJ has not filed any criminal charges.
The DC Circuit’s opinion in the Trump case last month undermined some of Mr. Meadows’ arguments, but now the Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of that notice of appeal, saying the DC Circuit’s discussion of his status of former president is not a binding precedent. .
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writing alone, said he agreed with the court’s decision to dismiss Trump’s request, noting the order was not based on Trump’s status as a former president. .
But in a statement accompanying the court ruling, Trump’s nominee said he disagreed with an appeals court suggestion that a former president cannot claim privilege over documents that arose. during his presidency.
“I respectfully disagree with the Court of Appeals on this point,” Kavanaugh said.
“A former president must be able to successfully claim presidential communications privilege for communications that occurred during his or her presidency, even if the current president does not support the claim for privilege,” he said.
Mr Kavanaugh added, however, that saying that a former president can claim privilege over such communications “does not mean that the privilege is absolute or cannot be overcome”.