Los Angeles Times

Trump appeals Jan. 6 case to high court

Ex-president asserts executive privilege to keep his records from House committee.

- By David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — Former President Trump asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to shield his White House files from being turned over to the House committee investigat­ing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

At issue is whether the former president may invoke executive privilege to protect the privacy of his records, even after President Biden had approved their release.

While the legal dispute involves the powers of the president — and in this instance, an ex-president — it arises amid a partisan battle over Trump’s role in inciting an attack on Congress as lawmakers met to certify Biden’s victory over Trump.

In appealing an earlier ruling that rejected Trump’s executive privilege claims, the former president’s lawyers urged the Supreme Court to “prevent two politicall­y aligned branches of government from wielding unfettered power to under

mine the Presidency and our Republic.” They said the decisions rejecting Trump’s claim of privilege “effectivel­y 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 are asking the court to block release of any documents and grant review of Trump’s appeal.

A federal judge and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected Trump’s executive privilege claims in recent weeks.

“Presidents are not kings, and the plaintiff is not president,” wrote U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, in a November ruling that turned aside Trump’s claims.

From the start, Trump’s lawyers made clear they were aiming their appeal at the more conservati­ve Supreme Court with its three Trump appointees. It is unclear how quickly the high court will act on the appeal. It is likely to ask the House committee and the Biden administra­tion for a response before issuing a ruling.

The case began in August when the House committee under Democratic control asked the National Archives, which has custody of presidenti­al records, for “all documents and communicat­ions related to efforts, plans, or proposals to contest the 2020 Presidenti­al election results” from April 2020 to January 2021.

Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (DMiss.) also requested “documents, communicat­ions, videos, photograph­s and other media generated within the White House on Jan. 6, 2021 that relate to the rally on the Ellipse, the march to the Capitol, the violence at the Capitol, and the activities of President Trump and other high-level Executive Branch officials that day,” the appeals court noted.

Under the Presidenti­al Records Act, Trump was notified of the request along with Biden.

In response, Biden said asserting executive privilege to shield these documents was “not in the best interests of the United States,” given the “unique and extraordin­ary circumstan­ces.”

In a letter to David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, White House Counsel Dana Remus wrote that “the constituti­onal protection­s of executive privilege should not be used to shield, from Congress or the public, informatio­n that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constituti­on itself.”

In this instance, she added, Congress has a “compelling need” to investigat­e “an unpreceden­ted effort to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power” and the “most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War.”

Lawyers for Trump filed suit in October seeking to block the release.

They said the records were protected by presidenti­al privilege, and Congress had no “legitimate legislativ­e purpose” in obtaining them.

The Constituti­on does not say Congress has a power to investigat­e, nor does it give the president an “executive privilege” to refuse requests for informatio­n. But both powers have been asserted through most of American history and upheld by the courts.

Presidents and their Cabinet secretarie­s frequently resist broad demands for informatio­n from congressio­nal committees. But the two sides often work out agreements to turn over a significan­t amount of what was requested. Rarely are these disputes resolved in court.

In refusing Trump’s legal claim, Judge Patricia Millett, writing for the D.C. Circuit, said that executive privilege, “like all other Article II powers, resides with the sitting President.”

She noted that the Supreme Court left open the possibilit­y in 1977 that former President Nixon could still assert some claims of “confidenti­ality” in his White House records. But in this case, the balance of interests clearly favors Congress and its need for informatio­n, wrote Millett, an Obama appointee who was joined in her ruling by two other Democratic appointees.

“Here, the House of Representa­tives is investigat­ing the single most deadly attack on the Capitol by domestic forces in the history of the United States. Lives were lost; blood was shed; portions of the Capitol building were badly damaged; and the lives of members of the House and Senate, as well as aides, staffers, and others who were working in the building, were endangered,” she wrote.

Moreover, “there is a direct linkage between the former President and the events of the day,” she added.

Her opinion recounted how the insurrecti­on began. Trump rallied his supporters at the Ellipse shortly before noon on Jan. 6, and repeated his false claims that the election was “rigged” and “stolen,” she wrote. He told the crowd that “we’re going to to walk down Pennsylvan­ia Avenue” and “demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated.” He warned that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness” and declared “[w]e fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Early in his hourlong address, Trump said he expected his supporters would march “peacefully and patriotica­lly” to the Capitol to “make your voices heard.” House Democrats noted during impeachmen­t proceeding­s he used the word “fight” or “fighting” 20 times.

When the speech concluded, Millett wrote, “a large crowd of President Trump’s supporters — including some armed with weapons and wearing full tactical gear — marched to the Capitol and violently broke into the building to try and prevent Congress’ certificat­ion of the election results.”

 ?? Evan Vucci Associated Press ?? THEN-PRESIDENT Trump speaks in Washington on Jan. 6. A House committee wants to see his records leading up to the insurrecti­on.
Evan Vucci Associated Press THEN-PRESIDENT Trump speaks in Washington on Jan. 6. A House committee wants to see his records leading up to the insurrecti­on.

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