A U.S. judge heard arguments by Donald Trump’s lawyers on Thursday that hundreds of pages of his White House records should be withheld from a House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot by a mob of his supporters.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is considering the Republican former president’s arguments that phone call records, visitor logs and other materials requested by the Democratic-led committee should be kept confidential.
“This is not only a monumental argument, but it’s one that will have consequences down the line for generations,” Trump lawyer Justin Clark said in his opening remarks.
Clark said the committee’s requests were “overbroad” and were invalid because they were unrelated to any legislation being considered by Congress.
Chutkan signalled scepticism of that argument, saying: “The January 6 riot happened in the Capitol. That is literally Congress’s power.”
Chutkan also said she was reluctant to second-guess any document demand by members of Congress.
“Is it really my role to require Congress to specify the legislation they are seeking?” Chutkan asked.
Trump on October 18 sued the nine-member select House committee, arguing that the requested materials were covered by a legal doctrine known as executive privilege that protects the confidentiality of some White House communications. Trump left office on Jan. 20.
The committee requested the materials from the U.S. National Archives, which holds the records.
Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, and Republican Representative Liz Cheney, its vice-chair, said in a statement after the filing of the lawsuit that Trump was seeking to “delay and obstruct” the investigation.
“It’s hard to imagine a more compelling public interest than trying to get answers about an attack on our democracy and an attempt to overturn the results of an election,” Cheney and Thompson said.
Trump gave an incendiary speech before the deadly riot repeating his false claims that the November 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urging his supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal.” His supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent Congress from formally certifying Joe Biden’s election victory. Biden entered the White House on January 20.
The committee has said it needs the requested materials to understand the role Trump may have played in fomenting the riot. It has said the requests are within its powers and driven by the legislative purpose of understanding the facts and causes surrounding the riot and developing legislation to guard against a similar assault in the future.
About 700 people face criminal charges stemming from the riot.
The House on Oct. 21 voted to hold Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the investigation. Bannon has refused to comply with committee subpoenas seeking documents and his testimony, citing Trump’s insistence – disputed by some legal scholars – that his communications are protected by executive privilege.
The Justice Department must now decide whether to bring criminal charges against Bannon.