WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday sided with the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot by refusing to block the release of scores of White House documents from the Trump administration.
The 39-page ruling from Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia means the first batch of disputed documents is set to be turned over to the House select committee by Friday.
“The court holds that the public interest lies in permitting…the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again,” Chutkan wrote, calling the events of Jan. 6 an “unprecedented attempt to prevent the lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”
She added, “for the first time since the election of 1860, the transfer of executive power was distinctly not peaceful.”
Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have already said they intend to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to keep the files private.
“The disagreement between an incumbent President and his predecessor from a rival political party highlights the importance of executive privilege,” Trump lawyer Jesse Binnall said in a court filing on Monday.
Binnall said the case involves “the ability of presidents and their advisers to reliably make and receive full and frank advice, without concern that communications will be publicly released to meet a political objective.”
Chutkan on Monday denied an emergency request by Trump to prevent the House committee from receiving the documents, calling the move “premature” because she hadn’t yet issued a ruling in the case.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that executive privilege should not be invoked to block the Jan. 6 committee’s document requests.
Trump previously sued the committee and the National Archives, which maintains White House records from past administrations, seeking to stop the process of handing over documents requested by the House panel. His lawyers said the request for a wide range of documents was invalid, arguing the committee does not have unlimited power of investigation and can only seek material directly related to drafting legislation.
A 1977 Supreme Court ruling in a dispute between former President Richard Nixon and the National Archives said former presidents retain some ability to assert executive privilege. But the justices at the time said the sitting president is best positioned to evaluate whether such claims should be honored.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Chutkan wrote: “At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President. And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent’s view is accorded greater weight.”
“Plaintiff does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent President’s judgment. 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,’” the judge went on to say. “But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President. He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent President ‘is not constitutionally obliged to honor’ that assertion.”
The House committee requested documents in March and August from the Archives that it said were related to the Trump administration’s actions before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump later notified the Archives that he formally asserted executive privilege.
Biden, however, determined that the privilege should not apply in this instance. White House Counsel Dana Remus said the documents “shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal government since the Civil War.”
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.