'Plaintiff is not President': Judge shoots down Trump's efforts to keep records from Jan. 6 committee

'Plaintiff is not President': Judge shoots down Trump's efforts to keep records from Jan. 6 committee
President Donald J. Trump speaks with reporters after signing an executive order on establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing Tuesday, June 25, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled Tuesday night that former President Donald Trump has no authority to prevent the National Archives from handing over records of his administration requested by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

President Joe Biden has given the archives permission to comply with the committee's request, effectively waiving any executive privilege claim. But Trump objected, arguing that he still wanted to assert privilege over the records, and he took the committee to court.

But Judge Chutkan found that, as a former president, Trump does not have the authority to overrule Biden's decision in this matter.

The ruling explained:

At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President. And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent's view is accorded greater weight. This principle is grounded in "the fact that the privilege is seen as inhering in the institution of the Presidency, and not in the President personally."

"Plaintiff does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent President's judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power 'exists in perpetuity,'" she continued. "But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President. He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent President 'is not constitutionally obliged to honor' that assertion."

The judge further noted that Trump requested the court step in and make individual judgments in this matter over which records may be handed over to the committee. But she argued that there's no reason for her to intervene when the House and the president are in agreement, as they are in this matter. And Trump failed to show that he would suffer any "irreparable harm" if the records are handed over, Chuktan argued — a central component needed to justify his request for the court to involve itself in the request.

She explained: "The legislative and executive branches believe the balance of equities and public interest are well served by the Select Committee's inquiry. The court will not second guess the two branches of government that have historically negotiated their own solutions to congressional requests for presidential documents."

The judge also made clear that she thinks the committee's task is worth pursuing, noting that it is in the "public interest" for the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack to continue. She also included several pages of detail about the run-up to the attack, including Trump's own statements that helped fuel the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen. While this information wasn't material to the judgment, she said, it provided relevant context.

Shortly after the ruling was issued, Trump's lawyers filed to appeal it.

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