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House committee investigating Capitol riot says Trump privilege claim should be tossed

Lawmakers sit during a meeting
The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection meets in Washington on Dec. 1.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection said Thursday that the Supreme Court should let stand an appeals court ruling granting the panel access to National Archives documents from former President Trump that might shed light on events surrounding the attack.

In a filing with the high court, lawyers for the committee argued that it is within its jurisdiction to seek the information.

“Although the facts are unprecedented, this case is not a difficult one,” the lawyers said in the filing, adding: “This Court’s review is unwarranted, and the petition for a writ of certiorari should be denied.”

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The lawyers said that if the court “nonetheless believes” a review is warranted, the House committee respectfully requests “ that the case be resolved expeditiously.”

The nine-member congressional committee is investigating not just Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 — when he told a crowd of supporters to “fight like hell” shortly before they marched on the Capitol and many overran law enforcement officers in a deadly riot — but also his efforts in the months before to challenge the election results based on false assertions and obstruct a peaceful transfer of power.

The former president has attacked the committee’s work and continues to promote unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, even though Joe Biden’s victory was certified by all 50 states and courts across the U.S. have rebuked Trump’s claims.

In suing to block the National Archives from turning over documents, Trump’s lawyers have said that the committee has “no legitimate legislative purpose” for seeking them and that granting access to them would damage executive privilege for future presidents.

Last week, Trump’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear arguments on his claim that executive privilege prevents the release of the documents, describing the committee as engaged in “meandering fishing expeditions.”

The panel says the documents, including presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts and handwritten notes, are vital to its inquiry into the attack on the Capitol aimed at overturning the election results.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear the appeal, the Dec. 9 ruling by the federal appeals court is final and the records must be turned over.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed aside Trump’s various arguments for executive privilege, saying Congress has a “uniquely vital interest” in studying the events of Jan. 6. The judicial panel also emphasized Biden’s determination that executive privilege should not apply because the documents are in the public interest.

The question now is whether at least four justices will agree to hear the case. The court has six conservative jurists, including three appointed by Trump, and several issues have arisen since Trump’s lawyers filed their original petition that might be of interest to them.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the House committee had agreed to defer its attempt to get some documents, at the request of the Biden administration. The White House was concerned that releasing all of the requested Trump administration documents could compromise national security and executive privilege.

The agreement to withhold some Trump records from the committee is spelled out in a Dec. 16 letter from the White House counsel’s office. The deal mostly shields records that do not involve relevant events but that were covered by the committee’s sweeping request for White House documents from Jan. 6.

While the agreement focused on specific concerns, the narrowing of the records request is an acknowledgment that it was broad.

Trump’s lawyers seized upon that point in their filing to the Supreme Court, calling the request “broad,” “overly broad,” “strikingly broad” and “hopelessly broad.”

In a statement after the disclosure of the agreement, the former president said that the committee had “just dropped a large portion of their request for my records and documents — a very big story” and that the action “also changes the entire complexion of their request.”

On Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers sent a supplemental request asking the high court to look into a Washington Post interview with committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in which Thompson indicates the committee is looking into Trump’s actions on the day of the insurrection to determine whether to recommend that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation.

The Trump filing argues that such action is outside the committee’s legislative purpose, and that the committee “cannot embark on what is essentially a law enforcement investigation with the excuse that it might legislate based on information it turns up in the course of the exploration.”

Lawyers for the committee addressed that question in their submission Thursday, acknowledging that the panel’s work must have legislative intent.

“The records could inform numerous pieces of potential legislation,” they wrote, such as efforts to “reform and amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887” and “enhance the legal consequences for a refusal by the Executive Branch to timely and appropriately respond to attacks on Congressional proceedings.”

The House committee’s lawyers also said the records could affect efforts to enact or enhance laws to “prevent Executive Branch officials from enlisting the Department of Justice, or other federal resources, to support false claims about an election.”

Trump’s attempts to limit investigations against him have had mixed results in the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year the justices refused to stop his tax records from going to a New York prosecutor’s office as part of an investigation.

But last year they prevented Congress from seeing banking and financial records of the then-president and members of his family.


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