WASHINGTON— A federal judge appeared unwilling Thursday to block the release of scores of White House documents from the National Archives sought by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Former President Donald Trump sued the committee and the National Archives, seeking to stop the process of handing over documents. Every former president’s records are maintained by the Archives.
He is seeking to prevent the first set of disputed documents from being turned over by a November 12 deadline.
Trump’s lawyers said the request for a wide range of documents is invalid because the committee doesn’t have unlimited power of investigation and can only seek material directly related to writing legislation.
“Are you really saying the president’s notes, talking points, and records of telephone conversations on January 6 have no bearing on the investigation” asked U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.
“These are about who the president was talking to as people were breaking windows and climbing into the Capitol.”
A mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed bid to halt the Electoral Vote count and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
The judge seemed equally skeptical of the claim by Trump’s lawyers that the material is protected by executive privilege and that the judge should review each document before it can be turned over to Congress.
“Wouldn’t that always mean the production would stall to a snail’s pace?” she asked.
Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled in a dispute between former President Richard Nixon and the Archives, asserting that former presidents retain some ability to claim executive privilege. But the court said the current president is in the best position to evaluate when such claims should be honored
Biden has repeatedly concluded that the privilege should not be invoked to block the Jan. 6 committee’s document requests.
Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Shapiro said former presidents can assert the privilege, but only to ask the current president to block a document’s release. If the incumbent president declines to do so, that is the end of the matter, she said.
Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer for the former president, said some of the committee’s requests were overly broad, such as seeking White House visitor logs. But Shapiro said many former presidents have disclosed those logs voluntarily.
Judge Chutkan suggested several times that some of the committee’s documents demands did seem far afield from the focus of the investigation.
“There are requests for all conversations with 40 people from April 2020 to January 6. That seems unbelievably broad.”
Even so, she said she would be in a better position to limit the document production “if the current administration objected to it, but it didn’t.”
The House committee requested documents in March and August from Archives that it said were related to the Trump administration’s actions before, during, and after the January 6 riot at the Capitol. Trump notified the archives that he formally asserted executive privilege.
Biden, however, concluded that the privilege should not apply. The White House Counsel, Dana Remus, said the documents “shed light on events within the White House on and about Jan. 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal government since the Civil War.”