Supreme Court rejects Trump request to block release of records to January 6 committee

Politics

President Donald Trump in East Room of the White House in Washington.
Leah Millis | Reuters

The Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon rejected a request by former President Donald Trump to block White House records from being sent to a House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot.

The ruling, which Trump cannot appeal, sets the stage for more than 700 pages of Trump White House records to soon be sent by the National Archives to the committee.

It represents a sharp loss for the Republican former president, who appointed three of the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices. The author of Wednesday’s ruling was not disclosed.

Of the nine justices, only Clarence Thomas would have granted Trump’s application for an injunction blocking the release of the records to the select committee. Thomas was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, another Republican.

Trump late last year failed in his legal efforts in Washington, D.C.’s federal district and appeals courts to block the panel from getting those documents. He then asked the Supreme Court to take the case.

He had argued unsuccessfully in those courts that he had the authority as a former president to invoke executive privilege to prevent disclosure of the records and cited that argument in his application to the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden had declined to invoke executive privilege for the records, which the committee wants as part of its probe of the events leading up to, during, and after the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol complex by a mob of Trump supporters. For several hours, the riot disrupted the confirmation of Biden’s victory in the 2020 election by a joint session of Congress.

The lower courts had ruled that Trump did not have the power to override Biden’s decision to waive executive privilege.

In its decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court said that the questions of whether and when a former president can obtain a court order blocking the release of records despite an incumbent president saying they can be released “are unprecedented and raise serious and substantial concerns.”

But the high court noted that D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals did not address those questions “because it analyzed and rejected President Trump’s privilege claims ‘under any of the tests [he] advocated.’ “

The decision noted that the appeals court “concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent” president.

Therefore, the ruling said, “his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision” against Trump, the Supreme Court noted in rejecting to take up his argument on the question of a former president having the power to invoke executive privilege.

A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately return a request seeking comment on the ruling.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump appointed to the court, in a statement released with the ruling said he “respectfully” disagreed with the appeals court’s opinion on whether a former president can invoke executive privilege.

“A former President must be able to successfully invoke the Presidential communications privilege for communications that occurred during his Presidency, even if the current President does not support the
privilege claim,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Concluding otherwise would eviscerate the executive privilege for Presidential communications.”

But Kavanaugh also wrote that that does not mean that just because a former president can invoke executive privilege does not mean that “privilege is absolute or cannot be overcome.”

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