WASHINGTON – A panel of judges Tuesday questioned whether they had the authority to grant former President Donald Trump's demands and stop the White House from allowing the release of documents related to the Jan. 6 insurrection led by Trump's supporters.
But the judges also noted there may be times when a former president would be justified in trying to stop the incumbent from disclosing records.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments from lawyers for Trump and the House committee seeking the records as part of its investigation into the Capitol riot. Trump's attorneys want the court to reverse a federal judge's ruling allowing the National Archives and Records Administration to turn over the records after President Joe Biden waived executive privilege.
Trump supporters broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 after a rally near the White House where he made false claims of election fraud and challenged them to “fight like hell.” About 700 people have been federally charged. Nine people died during and after the rioting.
The National Archives has said the records include presidential diaries, visitor logs, speech drafts, handwritten notes “concerning the events of January 6” from the files of former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and “a draft Executive Order on the topic of election integrity.”
Compared to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, whose ruling Trump is contesting, the three judges on the appeals court spent relatively little time weighing the importance of the documents themselves. They instead focused most of the hearing Tuesday on what role federal courts should have when an incumbent president and former president are at odds over records from the former's administration.
Democratic presidents nominated all three judges who heard arguments Tuesday. Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins were nominated by former President Barack Obama. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a Biden appointee seen as a contender for a Supreme Court seat should one open during the current administration.