Federal Judge Tosses Out RNC Bid to Block Select Committee Subpoena
WASHINGTON — A federal judge has tossed out a Republican National Committee bid to block a subpoena to a third-party vendor from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol by angry supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
The 56-page ruling handed down Sunday by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is a significant victory for the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Kelly, who was appointed to the District Court for the District of Columbia by former President Donald Trump, dismissed claims by the RNC that the committee lacks the standing to exercise investigative power and that its subpoena to Salesforce, the third-party vendor, failed to advance a valid legislative purpose.
The committee subpoenaed Salesforce in February, and the vendor initially signaled it planned to withhold any and all requested documents. Then, in early March, attorneys for Salesforce informed the RNC that after discussions with staff for the select committee, the company had changed its position.
They said Salesforce, which holds sensitive financial data and records of the GOP, would immediately begin producing the documents unless a court intervened.
The RNC then sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the select committee, its members and the third-party vendor, and asked Kelly to impose an injunction blocking the production of documents.
In doing so the Republicans asserted the scope of the subpoena was so broad that it amounted to an illegitimate incursion on political rivals.
The select committee responded by saying it was only pursuing evidence that the RNC’s post-2020 election email barrage — communications to supporters, often coordinated with the Trump campaign — helped sow distrust in the presidential election results and contributed to the tension that arose ahead of the attack on the Capitol.
“This case presents an unusual thicket of procedural and substantive issues, in part because of the way the select committee decided to defend the case; in part because of the exceedingly rare spectacle of a congressional committee subpoenaing the records of one of our country’s two major political parties; and in part because those records reside with the RNC’s third-party vendor, rather than the RNC itself,” Kelly wrote earlier on in his ruling. “The court now proceeds into the thicket.”
“To begin with, the RNC’s claims against House defendants must be dismissed,” he wrote. “As the framers intended, House defendants are immune from suit under the speech or debate clause. Further, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to pass on the merits of the claims against them in the alternative, as they urge.
“Turning next to the RNC’s claims against Salesforce, the court finds that the RNC has standing to pursue them. But on the merits, those claims come up short — except one, which is moot — given the highly deferential review the Court must give Congress’s investigative power and the nature of the materials at issue.
“Even so, the RNC identified important First Amendment interests implicated by the subpoena that would have presented a much different question for the court had the materials at issue not been narrowed after discussions between the select committee and Salesforce,” the judge said.
Later, Kelly described exactly how House defendants and Salesforce greatly narrowed the scope of the materials at issue.
“For example, House defendants are not seeking, and Salesforce is not producing, any disaggregated information about any of the RNC’s donors, volunteers or email recipients, including any person’s personally identifiable information,” he said. “Moreover, even the RNC’s own confidential information that is undeniably at issue is relatively narrow in scope.”
Based on this, Kelly found the “subpoena, as narrowed by negotiations that clarified the materials at issue, does not violate the First Amendment.”
“First, the select committee has a strong — that is, a ‘sufficiently important’ — interest in the records demanded. The D.C. Circuit has already recognized Congress’ ‘uniquely weighty’ and ‘vital interest in studying the Jan. 6 attack,’ which is being undertaken by the select committee to help propose ‘remedial legislation’ that will safeguard Congress’ ‘constitutional and legislative operations.’ … Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more important interest for Congress than to preserve its own ability to carry out specific duties assigned to it under the Constitution.
“In sum, the materials demanded have particular ‘value’ to the select committee ‘in the exercise of legislative duty,’ and its interest in this information is strong,” Kelly wrote.
The lone bright spot in the ruling for the RNC is that given the subpoena’s return date was Monday, May 2, Kelly imposed a brief administrative injunction to give the Republicans time to appeal.
The administrative injunction will dissolve automatically on Thursday, May 5.
“If the RNC has not moved for an injunction pending appeal by then … the administrative injunction will dissolve automatically upon the resolution of that motion.”