A federal judge has denied Donald Trump’s bid to stop a congressional committee investigating the January 6th attack on the US Capitol from accessing White House records related to the former president’s role in the deadly riot.
The ruling by Tanya Chutkan of the federal district court in the District of Columbia on Tuesday night marks a significant legal setback for the former US president, who has been trying to shield records of his actions around the attack on the basis that they are protected by executive privilege.
Although Mr Trump immediately appealed against the ruling, if it stands it could pave the way for the National Archives, which stores White House documents, to hand over the material as early as Friday – a move that was allowed by Joe Biden, the sitting US president.
Explaining her ruling on Tuesday night, Judge Chutkan said Mr Trump’s claim that he was owed executive privilege was misplaced. “His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity’,” she said.
“But presidents are not kings, and [the] plaintiff is not president. He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent president ‘is not constitutionally obliged to honour’ that assertion.”
The ruling came amid an intensifying legal battle over the congressional panel's investigation into the attack. A few hours earlier on Tuesday, the panel issued subpoenas to another 10 allies of Mr Trump, including former senior adviser Stephen Miller and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in the latest sign that the panel is escalating its investigation into the former president and his allies.
The House of Representative committee is demanding records and testimony from several more people associated with Mr Trump’s administration and 2020 presidential campaign.
Mr Miller, who rose quickly in the early years of the Trump administration from junior Senate staffer to presidential confidante and prominent White House spokesman, was a key architect of some of Mr Trump’s most hardline immigration policies, including a ban on migrants from Muslim countries.
Ms McEnany, now an on-air commentator for Fox News, was Mr Trump’s final press secretary, frequently locking horns with the media.
The January 6th committee said it was investigating Mr Miller’s public allegations of voter fraud in last year’s elections, as well as his efforts to get US state officials to overturn the results. Lawmakers cited Ms McEnany’s multiple claims of voter fraud, adding that she had also been with Mr Trump on January 6th as the events at the Capitol unfolded.
The tranche of 10 subpoenas came just a day after the committee announced it was summoning another six individuals, including Mr Trump’s erstwhile national security adviser Michael Flynn and Jason Miller, one of the former president’s closest aides.
The violent riot on January 6th interrupted the certification of Mr Biden’s Electoral College win and left five people dead. At least two police officers who responded to the attacks died by suicide later that month.
In addition to Ms McEnany and Mr Miller – two of the most recognisable faces in the Trump West Wing – the committee said on Tuesday that it had issued subpoenas to several former White House staffers, including Nicholas Luna, Molly Michael, Benjamin Williamson, Christopher Liddell, John McEntee, Keith Kellogg, Cassidy Hutchinson and Kenneth Klukowski.
"In the days before the January 6th attack, the former president's closest allies and advisers drove a campaign of misinformation about the election and planned ways to stop the count of Electoral College votes," said Bennie Thompson, the Democratic congressman chairing the committee.
Mr Thompson said lawmakers "need to know every detail about their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to [in] the White House and in Congress, what connections they had with rallies that escalated into a riot, and who paid for it all".
The House committee, which was formed after the impeachment trial, has seven Democratic members. Just two Republicans who have publicly broken with their party over its allegiance to Mr Trump – Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois – sit on the panel. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021