Supreme Court Deals Trump Major Defeat, Jan. 6 Committee to Get Records
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday night rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim of executive privilege, clearing the way for the release of White House documents sought by the select committee investigating last year’s siege on the U.S. Capitol.
In an unsigned order from which only Justice Clarence Thomas noted dissent, the court upheld an appeals court ruling that Trump’s desire to maintain the grip of confidentiality on internal White House communications in the last weeks of his presidency was outweighed by the need for a full and thorough accounting of the attack by insurrectionists loyal to the former president.
Their intent was to disrupt the certification of the 2020 electoral vote that ended with Joe Biden being declared the winner.
The ruling by the justices removed the last legal obstacle preventing the National Archives from providing hundreds of pages of White House records to the committee.
In fact, within hours of the posting of the decision, the committee was already receiving the documents Trump wanted kept secret, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively.
“The Supreme Court’s action tonight is a victory for the rule of law and American democracy,” Thompson and Cheney said in a statement pledging to “uncover all the facts about the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes.”
The records include presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts and handwritten notes dealing with Jan. 6 from the files of former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
In its brief order, the majority on the high court said, “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 Trump’s privilege claims ‘under any of the tests [he] advocated,’ without regard to his status as a former president.
“Because the Court of Appeals concluded that Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former president necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee to the court, wrote an addendum expressing his opinion that some of the broader statements made in the appeals court’s order, “questioning whether a former president may successfully invoke the presidential communications privilege if the current president does not support the claim were dicta and should not be considered binding precedent going forward.”
Because the House committee investigating the attack sought the records from the National Archives, President Biden and Trump both had the opportunity to object.
Trump invoked executive privilege, a doctrine meant to protect the confidentiality of presidential communications, over some of the documents.
“These sweeping requests are indicative of the committee’s broad investigation of a political foe, divorced from any of Congress’s legislative functions,” his lawyers wrote in an emergency application.
But Biden waived executive privilege over almost all of the requested documents, asking that only a few be withheld.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for the truth, for the rule of law and for the American people. As the Courts have again and again affirmed, no one is above the law – not even a former president, who incited the Jan. 6 insurrection,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a written statement.
“Reviewing documents that former Trump sought to hide from the American people is essential to understanding the events leading up to and during the deadly insurrection and its aftermath, and to ensuring it never happens again,” she added.