Judge rejects RNC effort to block third party from sharing data with Jan. 6 committee

Protesters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Protesters gather outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. A federal judge ruled late Sunday that the House committee investigating the riot that occurred that day is valid, and the Republican National Committee cannot prevent certain records from a campaign vendor being turned over to the committee. The RNC plans to appeal.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

In a decision that could reverberate across other Jan. 6 legal cases, a federal judge has rejected a Republican National Committee lawsuit seeking to block a campaign vendor from providing records to the House committee investigating the 2021 Capitol riot.

The House Select committee is seeking internal data from the email marketing vendor about whether the national party’s fundraising messaging after the 2020 election helped stoke violence at the Capitol, and how successful the messaging emails were for fundraising.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Tim Kelly —a Trump appointee— ruled that the committee’s subpoena for the information was reasonable and narrowly tailored in light of the evidence that the party joined former President Trump in spreading claims to supporters that the election was stolen. Kelly said the committee has demonstrated its need for the party’s data on hundreds of fundraising emails sent between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2021.


In a first, Kelly also swept aside a series of legal arguments about the committee’s creation and makeup that appear in several other lawsuits from Trump allies and former campaign and White House officials trying to block the committee from accessing their private communications and phone records through third-party companies. Though Kelly stayed his decision until Thursday so the RNC can appeal — delaying the committee from receiving the requested materials — the ruling that the committee’s creation and makeup are valid and that it has a legitimate legislative purpose could be used as precedent in the more than dozen other ongoing lawsuits based on similar claims.

The committee in February subpoenaed Salesforce, the third-party vendor the RNC uses to email fundraising requests. The RNC sued the company to keep it from complying. Salesforce told Vice News in the days after the riot that it had “taken action” against the RNC to “prevent its use of our services in any way that could lead to violence,” and the House Select committee also asked for information used as the basis for that decision.

The RNC will appeal the decision, said RNC chief counsel Matt Raymer.

“While the RNC strongly disagrees with this ruling, our lawsuit compelled Nany Pelosi’s January 6th Committee to dramatically narrow the subpoena’s scope. Nancy Pelosi’s attempted seizure of her political opponents’ campaign strategy cannot be allowed to stand, and we appreciate Judge Kelly continuing to temporarily block the subpoena. The RNC will continue to fight for the Constitutional rights of Republicans across the country and will appeal this decision,” Raymer said in a statement.

The RNC and others have tried to argue in court that because the committee does not have 13 members, as specified when it was created, and because House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) did not name committee members, the committee was not properly created. McCarthy withdrew all of his picks for the committee when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) rejected two of his five choices because of their close ties to Trump.

Pelosi instead named Republican Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to the committee. Cheney is vice chairwoman of the committee. Both have been punished by their party for participating.

The authorizing language approved by the House to create the committee states that Pelosi had to consult with McCarthy, Kelly noted, not that she had to accept his choices.


“To ‘consult’ with Minority Leader McCarthy, all Speaker Pelosi had to do was ask for his ‘advice or opinion,’ ” Kelly said in the opinion. “There is no dispute that she did. That she did not “accept all his recommendations, and that Minority Leader McCarthy then withdrew all his recommendations, does not mean that Speaker Pelosi failed to consult with him.”

Kelly also found that the committee’s legislative need for the GOP data outweighed the party’s concerns that sensitive, politically competitive data might be given to the committee or become public.

“Nothing suggests that the Select Committee is demanding, or that Salesforce is preparing to produce, internal RNC memoranda laying out its digital strategy,” Kelly wrote in his 53-page ruling. While information about whether an email campaign was successful may have some strategic value, he wrote, “whatever competitive harm may come to the RNC from disclosure of the actual material at issue is too ‘logically attenuated’ and ‘speculative’ to defeat the Select Committee’s weighty interest.”