A federal appeals court Thursday ruled against former President Donald Trump in his effort to block his White House records from being released to the House select committee investigating January 6.
However, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals paused its ruling for two weeks so that Trump could seek a Supreme Court intervention.
“The events of January 6th exposed the fragility of those democratic institutions and traditions that we had perhaps come to take for granted,” said the DC Circuit opinion, which was written by Judge Patricia Millett, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. “In response, the President of the United States and Congress have each made the judgment that access to this subset of presidential communication records is necessary to address a matter of great constitutional moment for the Republic. Former President Trump has given this court no legal reason to cast aside President Biden’s assessment of the Executive Branch interests at stake, or to create a separation of powers conflict that the Political Branches have avoided.”
Joining Millett in the decision was fellow Obama-appointee Judge Robert Wilkins and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Joe Biden.
Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington said in a statement following the ruling that “regardless of today’s decision by the appeals court, this case was always destined for the Supreme Court.”
“President Trump’s duty to defend the Constitution and the Office of the Presidency continues, and he will keep fighting for every American and every future Administration,” she continued.
Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, issued a statement Thursday applauding, “the Court’s decisive ruling, which respects the Select Committee’s interest in obtaining White House records and the President’s judgment in allowing those records to be produced.”
“Our work moves ahead swiftly. We will get to the truth,” the pair said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said in a statement Thursday, “No one can be allowed to stand in the way of the truth – particularly not the previous President, who incited the insurrection.”
Biden had declined to assert executive privilege over the documents in question, as he had determined that the “unique and extraordinary” circumstances around January 6 warranted the transparency, administration officials said.
Trump brought the lawsuit in October seeking to block the National Archives from turning over the documents to the House committee.
The former President’s lawsuit alleged that the House’s requests for documents from the executive branch “are unprecedented in their breadth and scope and are untethered from any legitimate legislative purpose.” It also claimed that Biden’s refusal to protect some of the documents was “a political ploy to accommodate his partisan allies.”
Among several legal arguments made in court, Trump has claimed that the House select committee hasn’t made clear the legislative reasons for why it needs records from his presidency, and that he should have some ability to keep private his discussions as president.
But the court pointed to several examples – that spanned administrations and dated to the Reagan administration – in which presidents “have agreed that the disclosure decision of an incumbent President controls within the Executive Branch over the contrary claim of a former President.” The examples included regulations adopted by the National Archives under the Trump administration.
The court said it was stopping short of deciding whether the judicial branch could ever second-guess an incumbent president’s decision not to assert executive privilege.
“Under any of the tests advocated by former President Trump, the profound interests in disclosure advanced by President Biden and the January 6th Committee far exceed his generalized concerns for Executive Branch confidentiality,” the DC Circuit opinion said.
Notably, the court also backed the purpose of the House’s investigation, as Trump had argued in the case that the probe lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.
“The very essence of the Article I power is legislating, and so there would seem to be few, if any, more imperative interests squarely within Congress’s wheelhouse than ensuring the safe and uninterrupted conduct of its constitutionally assigned business,” the opinion said.
“Here, the House of Representatives is investigating the single most deadly attack on the Capitol by domestic forces in the history of the United States. Lives were lost; blood was shed; portions of the Capitol building were badly damaged; and the lives of members of the House and Senate, as well as aides, staffers, and others who were working in the building, were endangered. They were forced to flee, preventing the legislators from completing their constitutional duties until the next day. “
The case turned on how courts should handle situations where a former president is seeking to overrule the decision by an incumbent president not to assert executive privilege.
“What Mr. Trump seeks is to have an Article III court intervene and nullify those judgments of the President and Congress, delay the Committee’s work, and derail the negotiations and accommodations that the Political Branches have made,” the appeals court said. “But essential to the rule of law is the principle that a former President must meet the same legal standards for obtaining preliminary injunctive relief as everyone else. And former President Trump has failed that task.”
The National Archives was originally set to begin turning over records last month to Congress, but Trump’s lawsuit had put that on hold, potentially slowing parts of the House committee’s investigation.
The House said it needs the more than 700 pages of disputed Trump White House records – including records from close advisers such as then-chief of staff Mark Meadows and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany – so it can learn more about Trump’s efforts in order for Congress to make laws that could protect future elections.
This story has been updated with additional information Thursday.
CNN’s Paula Reid and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.