Supreme court rejects Trump bid to shield documents from January 6 panel

The US supreme court has rejected a request by Donald Trump to block the release of White House records to the congressional committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol, dealing a blow to the former president.

The order, which casts aside Trump’s request to stop the House select committee from obtaining the records while the case makes its way through the courts, means more than 700 documents that could shed light on the attack can be transferred to Congress.

The only member of the high court who signaled he would have granted Trump’s request for an injunction was justice Clarence Thomas. The order did not provide a reasoning for turning down the application, which is not uncommon for requests for emergency stays.

Trump’s defeat in court allows the select committee to obtain from the National Archives some of the most sensitive White House records from his administration, including call logs, daily presidential diaries, handwritten notes and memos from his top aides.

The documents, which Trump tried to shield behind claims of executive privilege, also included materials in the files of his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy counsel Pat Philbin and advisor Stephen Miller.

“These records all relate to the events on or about January 6, and may assist the Select Committee’s investigation into that day,” justice department attorneys, acting on behalf of chief archivist David Ferriero, wrote in an earlier filing.

The supreme court’s action, which follows the earlier rejection of Trump’s request by two lower courts, is also likely to have a cascading effect on other lawsuits filed against the panel, which hinged on the success of Trump’s pending litigation.

Lawyers for Trump had urged the supreme court to take the case as they disagreed with the unanimous ruling of the US appeals court for the DC circuit that the current president Joe Biden could waive executive privilege over the objections of a former president.

The lower court rulings directing the National Archives to turn over the records “gut the ability of former presidents to maintain executive privilege over the objection of an incumbent, who is often, as is the case here, a political rival”, they said.

Trump’s legal team argued that the select committee also lacked a legitimate, legislative need for seeking the documents and was instead engaged in a partisan investigation seeking evidence to cause political damage to the former president.

“These sweeping requests are indicative of the committee’s broad investigation of a political foe, divorced from any of Congress’s legislative functions,” Trump’s lawyers said of the panel.

But in an unsigned opinion, the nation’s highest court rejected those arguments, upholding the appellate court ruling that found that although Trump had some limited power to exercise executive privilege, it was not sufficient to overcome Biden’s waiver.

The court cited a 1977 supreme court decision in a dispute between former president Richard Nixon and the National Archives, which said the sitting president was in the best position to decide whether the protection should be asserted.

The appeals court said that as long as the select committee could cite at least one legislative purpose for the documents – reforming laws to prevent a repeat of January 6, for instance – that would be enough to justify its request for Trumps’ records.

The select committee has also rebutted Trump’s claim that forcing the National Archives to hand over White House documents could discourage future presidential aides from providing candid advice.

That argument was misguided, the select committee said, because the conduct by Trump and some of his most senior aides under investigation went far beyond any usual deliberations concerning a president’s official duties.

Moments after the supreme court handed down its decision, investigators working in the select committee’s offices on Capitol Hill were heard clapping in celebration, just as the panel subpoenaed more individuals connected to the January 6 insurrection.

In its latest investigative action, the panel issued subpoenas to far-right Trump activists Nicholas Fuentes and Patrick Casey who received thousands of dollars in funds potentially connected to illegal activity and the Capitol attack.

The new subpoenas demanding documents and testimony from Fuentes and Casey suggest the panel is drawing closer to the source of funding for the rallies that preceded the Capitol attack and the coordinated travel plans of thousands of pro-Trump rioters.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the select committee, said that House investigators are interested in the pair since they were intimately involved in the transfer of money surrounding the Capitol attack and were present on Capitol grounds on January 6.

The select committee said in the subpoena letters that Fuentes and Casey led the “America First” or “Groyper” movement and promulgated lies about voter fraud as they sought to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win and get Trump a second term.

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