Jan. 6 committee pleads for urgent release of Trump White House documents

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol told a federal appeals court on Monday that further delay in releasing former President Donald Trump‘s White House records “would inflict a serious constitutional injury” on the committee and interfere with its “legislative duty.”

House General Counsel Douglas Letter filed the remarks to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on behalf of the committee ahead of oral arguments scheduled next week as part of Mr. Trump‘s ongoing lawsuit aimed at blocking the National Archives from releasing documents requested by the panel.

“The Select Committee‘s work is of the highest importance and urgency: It is investigating one of the darkest episodes in our Nation’s history, a deadly assault on the United States Capitol, the Vice President, and Congress, and an unprecedented disruption of the peaceful transfer of power,” Mr. Letter wrote.

“The Select Committee needs the documents now because they will shape the direction of the investigation,” he added.

Mr. Trump sued the committee last month over its sweeping request for the release of White House documents related to the Jan. 6 probe.

His legal team said in the lawsuit that the House committee has “no legitimate legislative purpose” for its request. They also press the claim that, as a former president, Mr. Trump enjoys “inherent constitutional rights of privilege.”

Mr. Trump‘s initial request for an injunction to halt the National Archive’s release of the records was denied by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan earlier this month. A federal appeals court later granted Mr. Trump an emergency motion to pause the release as his legal team appeals the decision.

The committee‘s legal team doubled down on its claims that Mr. Trump‘s assertion of executive privilege is without merit, given President Biden’s support for the release of the documents.

“Mr. Trump‘s broad claims of executive privilege are unprecedented and deeply flawed,” the committee‘s legal team wrote. “Executive privilege exists to protect the Executive Branch, and the President has declined to assert executive privilege over the documents contested here. Mr. Trump provides no cause for this Court to override that determination.”

The committee further argues that the release of the documents should be compelled immediately to ensure a timely investigation.

“[F]uture elections are imminent and there could be future attacks on democracy rooted in conduct occurring well before the election,” Mr. Letter wrote. “The Select Committee‘s task to study and suggest legislation to ensure that January 6 is not repeated, and that our Nation’s democracy is protected from future attacks, is urgent.”

Mr. Trump‘s suit has become a thorn in the committee‘s side as it attempts to compel key witnesses to provide documents and testimony.

Last month, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon failed to appear for a scheduled deposition before the committee after Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Costello, sent a letter to the committee saying his client would not participate in the investigation, citing the former president’s assertion of executive privilege.

The committee argued that Mr. Trump‘s claim of executive privilege, even if valid, would not apply to Mr. Bannon, who left the administration in 2017. They said his failure to appear for the deposition amounts to criminal contempt.

The panel voted unanimously to refer charges to the Justice Department, and Mr. Bannon was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt for failing to provide documents and appear for questioning.

The indictment comes as other witnesses defy the committee‘s demands and cite the former president’s claims of executive privilege.

Earlier this month, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows failed to appear for a deposition, and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark refused to answer questions while appearing before the committee. Both cited Mr. Trump‘s pending lawsuit as justification for not cooperating.

“The former president’s clear objective is to stop the Select Committee from getting to the facts about January 6th and his lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our probe,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, and Co-Chair Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, said in a statement last month.

The appeals court granted Mr. Trump‘s request for an emergency injunction just days before the National Archives was scheduled to deliver its first ream of documents to the committee.

The committee will seek to overturn the decision in oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 30.