Appeals court slows Jan. 6 committee’s effort to access Trump White House records

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A federal appeals court on Thursday granted a short-term delay in the Jan. 6 select committee’s access to Donald Trump’s White House records.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — including President Joe Biden’s first and only appointee to that court, Ketanji Brown Jackson — will instead hear arguments in the matter on Nov. 30.

The delay is a minor setback for the House Jan. 6 committee, which had prevailed in U.S. District Court against Trump’s legal effort to block access to his records altogether. The National Archives, which house Trump’s records, had been preparing to deliver the first batch of requested files to the committee on Friday afternoon.

The first batch of documents that was slated for release Friday is relatively small — Trump contested just 70 pages. But subsequent tranches identified by the Archives include hundreds of pages that were slated for release on Nov. 26. Those will now likely be delayed, as well. The records include call logs, visitor records and documents culled from the files of top Trump aides like chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The committee has repeatedly emphasized the urgency of accessing Trump’s records as it explores the former president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results, including the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol that disrupted the electoral vote count and sent lawmakers fleeing in fear.

Despite claims of urgency, the House did not object to Trump’s request for a temporary injunction while the appeals court considers the broader issues. The Justice Department also took no position on the temporary stay.

The composition of the appeals court panel is likely to hearten House investigators. The order issued on Thursday indicates that, in addition to Jackson, the panel includes Judges Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins, who were appointed by former President Barack Obama to the court.

The court’s order emphasized that the move to freeze the status quo for the time being should not be seen as reflecting what the court will end up deciding about Trump’s attempt to block disclosure of files from his former White House.

“The purpose of this administrative injunction is to protect the court’s jurisdiction to address appellant’s claims of executive privilege and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits,” the order said.

Despite the slowdown, the case is still moving at breakneck speed through typically slow-moving federal courts. Trump filed suit in mid-October to block the Jan. 6 committee’s access to his records. A District Court judge, Tanya Chutkan, rejected Trump’s effort on Tuesday, dismissing the notion that a former president could overrule the sitting president on matters of executive privilege.

Trump quickly appealed the decision and asked the appeals court to delay the effect of Chutkan’s ruling until fuller arguments could be heard. The appeals court’s decision to set a two-week briefing schedule keeps the case moving on a fast track. Trump is due to file his written brief in the case on Tuesday, with a reply by the National Archives and the House on Nov. 22. Trump will have an additional reply on Nov. 26 before oral arguments the following week.

If Trump loses in the three-judge panel, he has the option to appeal to the full appeals court or the Supreme Court.

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