Appeals Court Deals a Blow to Trump’s Privilege Claims Over January 6 Docs

On Thursday, a federal court denied an appeal from Donald Trump, ruling that the former president’s executive privilege claims — which he used to justify his refusal to release documents requested by the January 6 select committee — are unwarranted and improper.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recognized that former presidents, including Trump, do have the right to make executive privilege claims, a right that presidents often assert so they can have frank discussions with their advisors in private without facing scrutiny later on.

But the court found that Trump’s assertions were meritless, particularly when juxtaposed with the January 6 commission’s need for the documents, and President Joe Biden’s agreement that they are justified in seeking them.

Biden officially rejected Trump’s executive privilege claims in October.

“The executive privilege for presidential communications is a qualified one that Mr. Trump agrees must give way when necessary to protect overriding interests,” said Judge Patricia Millett in the court’s opinion. “The president and the legislative branch have shown a national interest in and pressing need for the prompt disclosure of these documents.”

Executive privilege is a “qualified privilege,” Millett went on, one “that has been waived by Presidents — including by President Trump — when they determined that the overriding interests of the nation warranted it.” Trump’s legal arguments for protecting communications from his final weeks of presidency were not demonstrative of a need to protect the executive branch, now or in the future. As a former president, Trump had to demonstrate that his interests or the interests of future presidents were at risk, which he failed to do.

Notably, the court recognized that the executive and legislative branches of government were in agreement on the matter.

“Former President Trump has given this court no legal reason to cast aside President Biden’s assessment of the Executive Branch interests at stake, or to create a separation of powers conflict that the Political Branches have avoided,” the court concluded.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), the chair of the January 6 commission, and Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), the co-chair, praised the ruling by the appellate court.

“We applaud the Court’s decisive ruling, which respects the Select Committee’s interest in obtaining White House records and the President’s judgment in allowing those records to be produced,” they said in a statement.

In a statement released by her office, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also hailed the ruling:

Today, the courts have once again rejected the former president’s campaign to obstruct Congress’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. No one can be allowed to stand in the way of the truth — particularly not the previous president, who incited the insurrection.

Trump still has a few options in attempting to block the January 6 commission from seeing his records. The former president can appeal the ruling to the entirety of the D.C. District Court, seeking what is called an en banc ruling. He could also appeal directly to the Supreme Court, as he successfully appointed three of its nine members over the course of his presidency.