U.S. judge seems set to reject Trump bid to block records requested by January 6 committee

November 8, 2021

A federal judge appeared ready to side y with Congress and the Biden White House on Thursday, November 4, against former president Donald Trump’s effort to block the release of hundreds of pages of White House records sought by a House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, reports The Washington Post.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said she might curb some “unbelievably broad” requests for records about Trump’s activities and communications leading up to the attempt by rioting Trump supporters as lawmakers met to confirm the 2020 presidential election, such as polling and campaign communication dating to April.

But the judge indicated the power to assert executive privilege claimed by Trump to withhold the records from Congress ultimately rests with the current president, Joe Biden, who has waived privilege and approved their release. When a current and former president disagree, courts ought to defer to the incumbent, she suggested.

“Isn’t the person who is best able and in a position to determine the executive privilege, the executive?” Chutkan asked in a two-hour oral argument in federal court in Washington.

“It’s not a separation of powers fight [with Congress]. It may be a dispute between a former president and a current president . . . but . . . there’s only one executive,” the judge continued.

Chutkan pointed out that the SCOTUS July 2020 Mazars decision allowing the House to obtain Trump’s personal banking and accounting records for years before he took office applied to official records “that are quintessentially about government business.”

She expressed astonishment at the claim that Congress would not consider legislation after rioters breached the building believing Trump wanted them to vindicate his unfounded claims of fraud and overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“The January 6th riots happened in the Capitol—that is literally Congress’s house,” Chutkan said.

“Are you really saying that the president’s notes, talking points, and telephone conversations on January 6th, for example, have no relation to matters on which Congress is considering legislation?” Chutkan said, such as the integrity of federal elections, domestic security or the security of the Capitol.

“How are visitor logs which reveal who came to the White House on specific dates, how are those privileged?” she asked, or notes of who Trump was calling or speaking to “as people were breaking windows and climbing into the Capitol?”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

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