Federal Judge Denies Trump’s Attempt To Use ‘Executive Privilege’ To Hide Jan. 6 Role

Trump is unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claims and cannot show how the release of public documents harms him, the U.S. District Court judge ruled.

WASHINGTON ― A federal judge late Tuesday denied Donald Trump’s attempt to block the release of hundreds of pages of documents from his presidency to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

“Plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claims or suffer irreparable harm, and because a balance of the equities and public interest bear against granting his requested relief,” wrote U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan. “But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”

Less than two hours after her ruling, Trump lawyer Jesse Binnall filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stop Friday’s scheduled release of the first batch of documents by the National Archives to the committee.

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters Jan. 6 from the Ellipse at the White House as both houses of Congress prepare to certify the Electoral College votes.
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters Jan. 6 from the Ellipse at the White House as both houses of Congress prepare to certify the Electoral College votes.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Trump, who tried to overthrow American democracy to remain in power despite losing his 2020 election by 7 million votes, has been trying to use the concept of “executive privilege” to keep secret his involvement in the planning of the attack and his actions during the hours it took place.

His successor, President Joe Biden, has already said through his White House general counsel that it would be inappropriate to use a legal principle based on the Constitution to hide an attack on that very document.

Chutkan, who had appeared deeply skeptical of Trump’s legal arguments during a hearing last week, laid out her reasoning in a 39-page opinion that rejected each of Trump’s assertions.

“First, the incumbent President has already spoken to the compelling public interest in ensuring that the Select Committee has access to the information necessary to complete its investigation,” she wrote. “Accordingly, the court holds that the public interest lies in permitting — not enjoining — the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”

Chutkan, on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also wrote that Trump’s public behavior in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riot was important to consider.

“In the months preceding the 2020 presidential election, Plaintiff declared that the only way he could lose would be if the election were ‘rigged,’” she wrote. “On January 6, Plaintiff spoke at the rally at the Ellipse, during which he (1) repeated claims, rejected by numerous courts, that the election was ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen’; (2) urged then Vice President Pence, who was preparing to convene Congress to tally the electoral votes, ‘to do the right thing’ by rejecting certain states’ electors and declining to certify the election for President Joseph R. Biden; and (3) told protesters to ‘walk down to the Capitol’ to ‘give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,’ ‘we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,’ and ‘you’ll never take back our country with weakness.’”

Neither Binnall nor his spokespeople responded to HuffPost requests for comment.

Trump became the first president in 232 years of U.S. elections to refuse to turn over power peacefully to his successor.

He spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 contest he lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.

Trump and some of his advisers even discussed using the U.S. military by invoking the Insurrection Act or by declaring martial law to retain power despite having lost the presidential election, including by seizing voting machines and ordering “re-votes” in states narrowly won by Biden.

But military leaders had earlier made it clear they would not involve themselves in the political process, so after the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his vice president into canceling the ballots of millions of voters in several states Biden won and declaring Trump the winner during the pro forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.

Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day and then told the tens of thousands who showed up to march on the Capitol to intimidate Mike Pence into doing what Trump wanted. “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules,” Trump said.

The mob of supporters he incited attempted to do his bidding by storming the building. They even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after the vice president refused to comply with Trump’s demands.

A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and four other officers took their own lives in the days and weeks that followed. One of the rioters was fatally shot as she climbed through a broken window into an anteroom containing still-evacuating House members, and three others in the crowd died during the melee.

Though the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him ― thereby letting Trump continue his political career even as faces several investigations into his postelection actions.

Trump and his allies are now engaged in a campaign to portray the rioter who was shot, Ashli Babbitt, as a martyr and the hundreds of others who have been arrested as victims of political persecution. Trump himself continues to suggest he will run for the 2024 GOP nomination and is using his Save America committee’s money to continue spreading the same falsehoods that culminated in the violence of Jan. 6.

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