Washington: A US federal judge has ruled that the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot can access records related to former President Donald Trump in the lead-up to the insurrection, dealing a blow to Trump’s effort to keep them secret.
“The court holds that the public interest lies in permitting — not enjoining — the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again,” Judge Tanya Chutkan of the US District Court in the District of Columbia wrote in a 39-page opinion, Xinhua reported.
The ruling was made on Tuesday night. Trump’s legal team told the court they will appeal.
As the custodian of those records totalling some 700 pages, the National Archives is expected to turn over to the House a number of documents on Friday, including White House call logs, video logs and meeting schedules related to January 6 as well as three pages of handwritten notes from Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
More documents are scheduled for later in November.
Trump filed a lawsuit in the court in October against the National Archive and the select committee, claiming that the committee’s request serves no useful legislative purpose, that it undermines
Trump’s executive privilege rights, and that the committee is not providing sufficient time for the former president’s team to review its records requests.
The lawsuit came after President Joe Biden refused to assert executive privileges, arguing that Trump’s effort was neither in the best interest of the US nor justified.
Chutkan said in her ruling that a former president cannot override the decisions of the incumbent president as relates to protecting privileged information of the executive branch. “It is the incumbent president who is best situated to protect executive branch interests.”
Presidential privilege “exists for the benefit of the Republic, not any individual,” she wrote.
It is for this reason that Congress and the courts can access presidential communications when the public has a need to be informed, the judge said.
Chutkan went on to say that the select committee’s requests, sweeping as they are, did “not exceed” the legislative power of Congress.
Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson who chairs the Jan. 6 committee called the ruling a “big deal” for the ongoing and intensifying investigation.
He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he looked forward to the panel’s investigators “going through (the documents) with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that our government was not weaponised against its citizens”, Xinhua news agency reported.
“We can only do that by getting access to the information. I applaud our lawyers who defended us in this court setting,” he said. “I applaud the expeditious ruling that we got because we have to get to this.”