Supreme Court paves way for Trump White House document review by Jan. 6 committee

The vote was 8-1, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.

January 19, 2022, 8:45 PM

The Supreme Court on Wednesday denied former President Donald Trump's request for a stay of a lower court mandate that hundreds of pages of his presidential records from Jan. 6 be turned over to the congressional committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The vote was 8-1. Justice Clarence Thomas would have granted the application.

In November, an appeals court put a temporary pause on the records handover after Trump sued the committee and the National Archives, asserting executive privilege over more than 750 pages of records that the National Archivist had determined were relevant to the Jan. 6 probe into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the subsequent attack on the Capitol.

PHOTO: Stephen Parlato holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.
Stephen Parlato holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2022.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Among the records being sought by the committee were White House notes and call and visitor logs from on and around Jan. 6.

"The decision of the court below substantially expands congressional power," Trump's attorneys told the Supreme Court in their petition for review. "The Constitution, this Court’s precedent, and the Presidential Records Act prevent two politically-aligned branches of government from wielding unfettered power to undermine the Presidency and our Republic. This Court should grant certiorari to ensure unlawful exercises of congressional power are checked by both reason and law."

In the court's decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that "the questions whether and in what circumstances a former President may obtain a court order preventing disclosure of privileged records from his tenure in office, in the face of a determination by the incumbent President to waive the privilege, are unprecedented and raise serious and substantial concerns."

"The Court of Appeals, however, had no occasion to decide these questions because it analyzed and rejected President Trump’s privilege claims 'under any of the tests [he] advocated,' without regard to his status as a former President," Roberts wrote.

The House committee's leaders praised the decision by the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court’s action tonight is a victory for the rule of law and American democracy," Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and co-chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a joint statement. "The Select Committee has already begun to receive records that the former President had hoped to keep hidden and we look forward to additional productions regarding this important information. Our work goes forward to uncover all the facts about the violence of January 6th and its causes."

They continued, "We will not be deterred in our effort to get answers for the American people, make legislative recommendations to strengthen our democracy, and help ensure nothing like that day ever happens again.”

PHOTO: (FILES) In this file photo taken on January 12, 2021 US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas.
(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 12, 2021 US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas. - The US Secret Service arrested a 72-year-old man in New York on January 10, 2022 after he allegedly phoned them threatening to kill ex-president Donald Trump, a criminal indictment showed.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

In the lawsuit, Trump's attorney Jesse Binnall argued the committee "has decided to harass President Trump ... by sending an illegal, unfounded, and overbroad records request to the Archivist of the United States" and accused President Joe Biden of engaging in "a political ploy to accommodate his partisan allies" by refusing to block the release of Trump's records to the Jan. 6 committee.

Instead, Biden ordered the National Archives to release records Trump had sought to classify as privileged communications.

The decision marks a major legal victory for the committee in their efforts to obtain documents that could shed further light on what Trump was doing -- and how the White House reacted -- as thousands of Trump's supporters attacked the Capitol building. It also represents a significant defeat for Trump, who in recent months has sought to downplay the severity of the Capitol assault while attempting to prevent the release of documents that he has claimed would show no evidence of wrongdoing by himself or those he was communicating with around the time of the attack.

Related Topics