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US top court allows Jan. 6 committee to get Trump records

January 20, 2022

In a setback for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court is allowing the release of presidential documents to a congressional committee investigating the 2021 Capitol attack.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Trump supporters clashed with police and security forces on January 6, 2021, hoping to prevent the transition to Joe Biden's presidency after the 2020 electionImage: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former president Donald Trump's request to block the release of White House records sought by a congressional committee probing the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump had cited executive privilege to prevent the documents from being given to the panel looking into the attack on Congress by his supporters. The documents are held by the National Archives and Records Administration, the independent US government agency charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. 

Trump approached the country's top court to halt a December ruling by a federal appeals court, which rejected his efforts to withhold the records.

However, the Supreme court on Wednesday refused in an 8-1 vote.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, was the only judge in favor of the bid.

The court issued a brief unsigned order on the issue, its way of dismissing a comparatively uncontroversial appeal put to it. It found that one of the more controversial issues potentially raised — whether a former president can still cite executive privilege over documents from their time in office — did not need to be answered to resolve this particular case, siding with a prior appeals court conclusion.

"Because the court of appeals concluded that President Trump's claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former president necessarily made no difference to the court's decision," the order said.

What does this mean?

The documents, which comprise more than 770 pages, include presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts and records of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, his former senior adviser Stephen Miller and his former deputy counsel Patrick Philbin.

The House of Representatives select committee has said it needs the records to determine any role Trump may have had in inciting the violence that ensued when his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's 2020 presidential election victory over Trump.

Trump's lawyers had hoped to prolong the court battle and keep the documents on hold.

Following the court's action, there is no legal barrier to releasing the documents.

dvv/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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