Judge questions Trump suit to keep January 6 documents secret
A Washington judge questioned on Nov. 4 former president Donald Trump’s suit to block the release of White House records that could implicate him or his aides in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Four weeks after President Joe Biden approved the release of the records, Judge Tanya Chutkan expressed doubts over Trump’s claim of presidential executive privilege to keep the communications and visitor logs related to that day under seal.
The documents have been sought by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 violence, in which hundreds of Trump supporters forced the shutdown of Congress and delayed a joint session to confirm that Biden had won the November election and would become president.
Trump’s suit sought a stay to halt the release of the documents, arguing that as former president he retained privileges to protect his work and communications.
"The former president has rights with respect to asserting privilege," said Trump attorney Justin Clark.
But Chutkan challenged him to cite any precedent for that, given Biden’s ruling.
"How should I weigh a previous president’s assertion of privilege when the current president says there is none?" she asked.
"The former president’s rights are less significant because he is a former president," she said.
"The person best able to determine whether there is an executive privilege would be the executive."
She also challenged Clark’s claim that the Select Committee, which has also subpoenaed Trump aides to testify, has no legitimate reason to seek the documents.
"There needs to be at least a legislative purpose behind the request," Clark said.
But Chutkan asked: "Are you really saying that the President’s notes, talking points, telephone conversations, on January 6, have no relation to the matter on which Congress is considering legislation?"
"The January 6 riot happened in the Capitol. That is literally Congress’ house," she said.
Chutkan agreed with Clark that the committees document request, which includes documents dating back to April 2020, could be too broad.
An attorney representing the committee, Douglas Letter, said they wanted to show that Trump encouraged the attack by stoking anger among supporters.
"This attack didn’t just come out of nowhere," Letter told the court.
"Many attempts have been made before the election to try to build major mistrust... so that if president Trump did lose, he would be able to say that it was unfair and generate a lot of anger in ways that led to January 6," he said.
Letter said that even if the court viewed that some documents should be excluded, it should not prevent the bulk of them from being released to the committee.
Chutkan, noting the urgency of Trump’s request for a stay to block the release, said she would rule "expeditiously."