Judge rejects Trump offer to keep documents secret in Jan.6 inquest

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WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Tuesday evening rejected an offer by former President Donald J. Trump to keep documents secret about his actions and conversations before and during the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill by his supporters.

In a 39-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for the District of Columbia ruled that the constitutional oversight powers of Congress to obtain information prevailed over Mr. Trump’s residual secrecy powers – in particular because the outgoing president, President Biden, has agreed that lawmakers investigating the Jan.6 riot should see the records.

Mr. Trump “does not recognize the deference due to the judgment of the outgoing president. Its position that it can override the express will of the executive branch appears to be based on the idea that its executive branch “exists in perpetuity,” ”Judge Chutkan wrote. “But presidents are not kings, and the plaintiff is not president.”

Mr. Trump retained the right to assert his records were privileged, she added, but Mr. Biden was under no obligation to honor that claim. The outgoing president, she said, is in a better position to protect the interests of the executive, and Mr. Trump “no longer remains subject to political checks against possible abuse of that power.”

The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean the National Archives will turn the documents over to the House committee investigating Jan.6 anytime soon. The case raises new questions about the scope and limits of a former president’s executive privilege authority, and it is likely that it will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In a post on TwitterTrump spokesman Taylor Budowich said the case was intended to be appealed. He said Mr. Trump is committed to upholding the right of past presidents – as well as present and future presidents – to assert executive privilege and “will follow this process through.”

But in a statement after the ruling, Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is chairman of the committee, called the trial “little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation.”

“Throughout the history of our country, the executive branch has provided Congress with testimony and information when it is in the public interest,” he said. “Tonight’s decision is in keeping with this tradition. And in my opinion, there could not be a more compelling public interest than getting answers on an attack on our democracy.

The Jan.6 committee demanded that the National Archives and Records Administration turn over detailed records of every move and meeting Mr. Trump had on the day of the assault, when Mr. Trump led a “Stop the Steal” rally and his supporters were subsequently sacked. the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Mr. Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

Mr Trump – who pursued a strategy of blocking all Congressional oversight subpoenas during his tenure, running out of time for such efforts ahead of the 2020 election – has asked his former subordinates to defy subpoenas of the January 6 committee and filed a complaint to prevent the National Archives from handing over records from its White House.

Last week, Justice Chutkan, appointed by Obama in 2014, expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump’s legal arguments. Mr Trump’s attorney claimed his residual executive privilege powers mean courts should stop Congress from subpoenaing cases, despite Mr Biden’s decision not to assert executive privilege over them in light circumstances.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer had argued that the public interest would be served by letting the former president keep the documents secret to preserve executive prerogatives. But Judge Chutkan wrote that his arguments “did not hold water” in light of Mr. Biden’s support for making them public and the need for Congress to investigate the attack without undue delay.

Congress and the Biden administration, she noted, “contend that uncovering and accepting the underlying causes of the Jan. 6 attack is a matter of unparalleled public importance, as this information relates to our democratic institutions. fundamentals and public confidence in them. The court agrees.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump’s attorney, Jesse R. Binnall, signaled his intention to continue by asking Judge Chutkan to impose an emergency injunction on the National Archives preventing him from turning over the files while he was appealing the case to the United States Court of Justice. Calls for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Mr Biden has asked the head of the National Archives to turn over the first installment of the documents subpoenaed by the Jan.6 committee on Nov. 12, unless a court order prevents him from doing so.

Noting that November 11 is a federal holiday, Mr Binnall said he wanted to make sure there was an order preserving the status quo by then, and said he would file a request with the DC Circuit for such an injunction if Judge Chutkan does not. act before November 10.

“This case should be decided after a thorough but expeditious review in accordance with the United States’ judicial review process, both in this court and on appeal, and not by a race against time,” Binnall wrote, adding : “It’s not a game.”

Judge Chutkan dismissed the request earlier on Tuesday, saying it was premature as she had yet to render a ruling. But she pledged to deal “expeditiously in this matter” and said she would consider a motion to suspend the losing party at this point.

Luke broadwater contributed to Washington reporting.


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