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Trump seeks continued block on sending files from White House to January 6 Panel

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WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday asked a federal appeals court to prevent the National Archives from giving Congress rapid access to data from his White House related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, arguing that litigation as to whether they are properly protected by his claim to executive privilege must first be played out completely.

In a 54-page letter filed before the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Trump attorney Jesse R. Binnall reiterated his argument that the Constitution gives the former president the power to keep those files confidential, too. though he is no longer in office — and though President Biden declined to assert executive privilege over them.

“The stakes in this matter are high,” wrote Mr Binnall, adding that a decision to uphold Congressional subpoena over Mr Trump’s objections would set a precedent that would alter the balance between the legislative and executive branches. shift.

“It is naive to assume that the consequences will be limited to President Trump or the events of January 6, 2021,” he wrote. “Any Congress will point to something unprecedented about ‘this President’ to justify a request for his presidential files. In these hyper-partisan times, Congress will increasingly and inevitably use this new weapon to constantly harass its political rival.”

The dispute raises new questions about the scope of the executive’s privilege when invoked by a former president without the backing of the incumbent. It revolves around a subpoena issued by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters who wanted to prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s election win.

The committee is seeking documents from the White House that would show Mr Trump’s movements, meetings and communications before and during the day of the riots. Jan. 6 kicked off with a rally called by Mr. Trump, at which he reiterated his baseless claim that the election had been stolen from him, while encouraging his supporters to “fight like hell” and walk to the Capitol.

After Mr. Biden, through his White House counsel, told the head of the National Archives that he believed it was in the public interest for the Jan. 6 committee to obtain the White House files and that he would therefore not invoke administrative law over them, Trump has filed a lawsuit and requested a ban blocking the agency from giving the data to Congress.

Last week, a federal court judge Tanya Chutkan sided with Congress and the Biden administration. She ruled that while Trump could invoke administrative law, the remaining nondisclosure powers he possesses under these circumstances would not outweigh Congress’s constitutional investigative authority, backed by Biden.

Mr Trump “does not recognize the respect due to the judgment of the incumbent president. His position that he may override the express will of the executive appears to be based on the idea that his executive “exists in eternity,” Judge Chutkan wrote. “But presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not president.”

The National Archives was due to deliver a first batch of documents to Congress last Friday. (It has identified additional batches on a rolling basis.) Judge Chutkan declined to block transfer of the documents while Mr. Trump appealed her ruling, but the DC Circuit appeals panel issued a short-term block to freeze things in place. for now.

The chair of the Jan. 6 committee, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, has said he aims to complete his work by late spring, raising the question of whether the lawsuit will prevent the panel from accessing the documents before it is released. a final report.

In his briefing, Mr. Binnall wrote that it was important that the legal issues are finally resolved before Congress gains access to any of the disputed documents, suggesting that it would do his client little good if he eventually wins the case, but the House has already seen the confidential files.

“The limited interest the commission may have in obtaining the requested data immediately pales in comparison to President Trump’s interest in obtaining judicial review before he suffers irreparable harm,” Mr Binnall wrote.

In office and out of office, amid frequent disputes with Congress over access to government information for surveillance investigations, Mr. Trump has adopted a strategy of antagonizing, rather than negotiating a compromise, and using the generally slow pace of lawsuits to run the clock.

Against that background, the appeals court panel has scheduled arguments for Nov. 30 on a preliminary ruling on whether the National Archives should continue to block the transfer of papers to Congress while reviewing the legal merits of Mr. Trump’s claim to the area of ​​executive privilege. Should it drop that bloc, Mr Trump would most likely appeal to the Supreme Court.

To date, all judges randomly assigned to hear the case have been liberal-minded Democratic appointees. Judge Chutkan was appointed by President Barack Obama, as were two judges on the appeals court: Patricia A. Millett and Robert L. Wilkins. The third appellate judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was appointed by Mr. Biden.

But when the case comes to the Supreme Court, the atmosphere may be different. Six of the nine judges are conservative-leaning Republican appointees, including three appointed to the bench by Mr. Trump.

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