In a 34-page ruling issued Tuesday night, D.C. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Donald Trump’s request for injunctive relief to prevent the January 6 Select Committee from obtaining privileged information currently housed at the National Archives. In August, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the committee, demanded “a wide range of White House records of the previous administration . . . [related to] how the January 6th events fit in the continuum of efforts to subvert the rule of law, overturn the results of the November 3, 2020 election, or otherwise impede the peaceful transfer of power.”
The National Archives notified the committee a few days later it would comply with the request for documents; Joe Biden twice denied Trump’s claims of executive privilege, something without precedent, which Chutkan noted: “This case presents the first instance . . . in which a former President asserts executive privilege over records for which the sitting President has refused to assert executive privilege.”
Biden’s White House counsel further instructed the Archives to turn over all requested materials within 60 days. Speaking on behalf of Joe Biden, whose unlawful election was the subject of the January 6 protest, White House Counsel Dana Remus explained why:
Congress has a compelling need in service of its legislative functions to understand the circumstances that led to these horrific events. The Documents shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War. These are unique and extraordinary circumstances. 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.
Chutkan sided with Thompson, explaining that Biden’s position on executive privilege outweighed Trump’s. Appointed by Barack Obama in 2014, Chutkan routinely lectures January 6 defendants from the bench; she has ordered jail time for four defendants who pleaded guilty to “parading” in the Capitol, a low-level misdemeanor, overruling prosecutors’ requests for probation or home detention. “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government,” Chutkan warned one defendant.
During last week’s hearing in Trump’s case, Chutkan described January 6 as a “riot,” and condemned Americans for defiling “Congress’s house.”
While acknowledging the committee cast a “wide net” for documents—the timeline dates back to April 2020 in an effort to capture all communications related to the 2020 presidential election and Trump’s claims the election was illegitimate—Chutkan agreed with the committee’s broad scope based on the premise it is “necessary to investigate the extent to which the January 6 attack on the Capitol may have been an outgrowth of a sustained effort to overturn the 2020 election results, involving individuals both in and outside government.”
In rejecting Trump’s additional argument that the committee has not yet identified potential legislation Congress could pass as a result of the committee’s work, Chutkan imagined a detailed list of new laws that might be enacted to prevent future “attacks” on the Capitol, including punishment for members of Congress “who engaged in ‘insurrection or rebellion’ or gave ‘aid or comfort to the enemies thereof’”—a clear swipe at Republican lawmakers accused of inciting the events of January 6—and changes to intelligence agencies that would allow the government to target “domestic threats” to elections. “These are just a few examples of potential reforms that Congress might, as a result of the Select Committee’s work, conclude are necessary or appropriate to securing democratic processes, deterring violent extremism, protecting fair elections, and ensuring the peaceful transition of power,” Chutkan suggested.
Thompson praised Chutkan’s ruling in a statement released Monday night. “This decision affirms the importance of the Select Committee’s work to get answers for the American people, recommend changes to the law to strengthen our democracy, and help ensure nothing like the attack of January 6th ever happens again.”
No word yet on whether Trump plans to appeal Chutkan’s ruling.