Trump documents: Federal judge skeptical of efforts to block publication of presidential documents

“Are you really saying that the president’s notes, talking points, phone conversations, January 6, have nothing to do with the issue that Congress is considering legislation on?” asked Chutkan. “The January 6 riot happened on Capitol Hill. It is literally the home of Congress.”

The Biden administration has approved their surrender to the House select committee starting next week.

Trump’s lawyers are even trying to keep logs from visitors to the White House a secret – the types of documents released in the past and even by the current presidential administration.

“The former president has rights,” argued Justin Clark, Trump’s lawyer.

Chutkan also harshly questioned Trump’s request for the court to review each document one by one – “You’re talking about years,” she said – and an argument from her lawyer that the White House records theoretically should be more protected than those of Trump. personal tax files, which he still fights in the courts to keep secret.

“Congress here did not ask for private information,” Chutkan said. “These documents are being sought to strengthen Congressional oversight of the events of January 6. They are only looking for documents relating to government activity.”

The hearing can be the pivotal moment in a potentially historic legal battle over the authority of a former Speaker, the investigative power of the House, and the scope of executive privilege.

In the short term, the case could also have huge implications for the House’s bipartisan inquiry, which calls for records and witnesses before the midterm elections take place next year. Without access to documents, the Chamber could be considerably hampered in its investigation.

Judge suggests House’s demands are too broad

After grilling Trump’s lawyers, Chutkan challenged counsel for the House Democrats over the extent of the documents requested by the committee – a key issue, as the former president claimed the demand was so massive he It was clearly a political fishing expedition.

Chutkan acknowledged that “some of these demands seem very closely matched.” But she said a few times during the hearing that other parts of the committee’s request covered a wide range of material, saying it was “alarmingly wide”, “very broad” and “really broad” .

Congress has broad authority to demand documents, but “there has to be some limit,” she said.

She said a Trump poll data request from the summer of 2020 was “tangent” to the Jan.6 investigation. She also focused on an April 2020 request for documents and asked House Democrats’ top lawyer Doug Letter to explain how these documents relate to the insurgency.

“We think maybe all of this is related to, leading to that, his fomenting, creating a wave of feeling that this election was going to be tainted,” Letter said, alluding to Trump’s comments at the start. of the pandemic that the election would be rigged by a postal vote.

The letter acknowledged that some of the requests were broad, but said “it’s up to Congress to decide,” and said federal courts should not tell lawmakers how they should conduct their investigation.

Chutkan also pointed out in the House that some of the things they might want to see from Trump’s White House that they don’t really need, as Trump was already making his intentions clear, publicly. In particular, she questioned a House request for survey data.

When Letter described how the House looked for information that might explain why the then president tweeted about voter fraud even before the election, the judge joked: “I’m not sure there is an answer why the president tweeted what he tweeted. “

In court, the Chamber made its investigation one of its most critical tasks in history. “In 2021, for the first time since the civil war, the Nation has not experienced a peaceful transfer of power,” Chamber lawyers wrote over the weekend. “A peaceful transfer of power from one president to another is crucial to the continuation of our democratic government. It is difficult to imagine a more critical subject for Congressional inquiry, and Mr. Trump’s arguments cannot overcome this pressing legislative need. “

Any outcome is subject to appeal, but time is running out for both the House and Trump.

The National Archives, part of the executive branch that inherited Trump’s presidential records after he left, has already ruled that the House should have access to the records of Trump’s tenure as president. The agency is expected to hand them over from next week, November 12, unless Chutkan or an appeals court decides otherwise.

Trump has used the court system before

Trump has looked to the court system several times in recent years to slow down or prevent Congress from accessing files he says should be kept private. The courts are still resolving many of these disputes, such as in cases relating to his personal accounting firm’s work, his IRS tax returns, and his company’s banking records.
While president, he was able to suspend subpoenas of his closest advisers using broad claims of privilege and the support of the Department of Justice. And even before Trump’s presidency, lawsuits over executive privilege in document collections dragged on for years.

But the executive privilege issues raised by Trump now put the tribunal in a new position by weighing the needs of the House against its pleas for privacy for its now expired term.

“Allowing the expansive demand here would hurt future presidents and their close associates by allowing invasive congressional fishing expeditions that will certainly chill sincere advice and harm the institution of the presidency,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in court this morning. week.

The files Trump wants to keep under wraps for now appear to be a treasure trove of notes from his top advisers related to his insistence the election was stolen and his reaction to his supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. . They include parts of the files. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, from whom the committee requested testimony, and other key figures such as Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Over the past few weeks, Meadows has engaged with the House but has not spoken – an apparent impasse that could change depending on the outcome of the Trump case.

The Archives gave a taste of what Trump is trying to protect in a list, down to page count, handwritten notes, draft public statements, call logs to Trump and the former vice-president. President Mike Pence, records of White House visitors and more from the records of top White House officials.

These types of documents, if obtained by the House, could address some of the most closely guarded facts of what happened minute by minute between Trump and other high-level officials, including those around. of him watching the headquarters and the officials who were attacked.

The White House Biden has ruled it will not claim executive privilege over the files the Archives has examined so far, citing the extraordinary situation of the attack on Congress.

The Archives continue to work on Trump’s papers and set dates for their dispatch to Congress.

“President Biden’s sober determination that the public interest requires disclosure is patently reasonable, and it is up to him to do so,” lawyers for the Biden administration wrote in court.

The documents

Trump is trying to keep more than 700 pages of the files of his closest advisers secret until Jan. 6, according to an affidavit by B. John Laster of the National Archives.

These documents include working papers from Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, the press secretary and a White House lawyer who had notes and memos about Trump’s efforts to undermine the elections.

In Meadows’ documents alone, there are three handwritten notes on the events of January 6 and two pages listing briefings and phone calls about the Electoral College certification, the archivist said.

The preview of Laster’s documents gave a glimpse of the paperwork that would reveal events inside the West Wing as Trump supporters gathered in Washington and then invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Trump is also seeking to keep 30 pages of his daily schedule, White House visitor logs and call tapes a secret, Laster wrote. Switchboard call logs, schedules and checklists document “calls to the president and vice president, all specifically for or encompassing January 6, 2021,” Laster said.

The files Trump wants to keep secret also include draft speeches, a draft proclamation honoring two police officers who died during the siege, and memos and other documents on alleged electoral fraud and efforts to undo Trump’s loss of the Presidency.

A lawyer for the Biden administration was in rare alignment with the House, arguing for disclosure of the records and against Trump during Thursday’s hearing.

“The former president does not have the right to challenge the entire legislative project,” Elizabeth Shapiro, a justice ministry lawyer representing the National Archives, told court.

She also noted that the files Trump wants to protect will one day be public. Archives policies typically keep White House records restricted for 12 years, she said, but branches of government may have access to them before that.

“These are not documents where privilege and confidentiality will survive forever. Far from it,” she said.

This story has been updated with details of the audience.

About Rachel Gooch

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