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Judge says she'll rule "expeditiously" on Trump's bid to shield January 6 records from House

Role of pro-Trump "command center" on January 6
Role of pro-Trump "command center" on January... 05:12

Washington — A federal judge said Thursday she would rule "expeditiously" on whether former President Donald Trump can keep certain records from his tenure in the White House out of the hands of the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.  

Attorneys representing Mr. Trump, the House of Representatives and the National Archives argued in federal court Thursday over the House select committee's requests for the records held by the National Archives and Records Administration that pertain to the Capitol riot. 

The former president sued the committee and the National Archives in an attempt to halt the transfer of records from his presidency, over 750 of which he has claimed executive privilege. 

The lawsuit argues that Mr. Trump's records are subject to a certain level of confidentiality and, in requesting access to these documents, "the Committee is attempting to damage the republic itself, and the citizens of the United States, for executive privilege 'safeguards the public interest in candid, confidential deliberations within the Executive Branch; it is 'fundamental to the operation of Government.'"

President Biden has already rejected his predecessor's claim of executive privilege and permitted the National Archives, which holds the records, to comply with the House committee's request for the documents. The committee says it needs the documents to further understand the events leading up to, during, and following the January 6 assault on the Capitol. 

Judge Tanya Chutkan is now tasked with deciding whether the claim of privilege made by the former president outweighs the incumbent president's waiver of that same principle.

In court on Thursday, Mr. Trump's attorney Justin Clark argued the documents requested are not only subject to executive privilege, but that the requests are also extremely broad and do not lend themselves to a valid legislative purpose for the House. 

The request from the House and the National Archives' decision to release the documents amounts to a "broad document dump," Clark alleged, which has "turn[ed] into a partisan exercise." 

The judge seemed unconvinced by much of his argument, but granted that some of the included records, like campaign polling data, are "alarmingly broad." 

Nevertheless, as Clark argued that the committee has other means of investigating the January 6 attack outside of obtaining the archived records like subpoenas and depositions, Chutkan again rejected his claims. 

"Your client has instructed others who have received subpoenas not to comply," she told Mr. Trump's attorney, so the records may, in fact, be necessary. 

The judge later pressed general counsel for the House of Representatives, Douglas Letter, on the breadth of the House's request for documents, particularly those that seem to predate the 2020 election.

"We want to see who did President Trump talk to, who was he consulting with ... what really led up to this," Letter responded, explaining an additional job of the committee is working to rebuild public confidence in the electoral system. 

Chutkan, however, pressed on, saying, "There has to be a limit ... where is the line drawn?" 

And as for the National Archives, Elizabeth Shapiro of the Justice Department also argued that deference should be granted to Mr. Biden's decision to waive privilege over the Trump White House records. "These are not documents where privilege and confidentiality will survive forever. Far from it," she added. 

Since the former president filed his lawsuit, the National Archives has revealed that it identified more than 1,500 pages pertinent to the committee's request. These include daily presidential diaries, the files of then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, multiple binders belonging to then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and White House talking points alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. 

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