Trump cannot block congressional probe of attack on US Capitol, judge rules

In this photo taken on Jan 6, 2021, members of a mob incited by ex-President Donald Trump climb the walls of the Capitol in Washington. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US House of Representatives committee investigating the deadly attack on the US Capitol can access former president Donald Trump's White House records, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday (Nov 10) in a clear win for congressional oversight powers.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan in the District of Columbia rejected an argument by Mr Trump's lawyers that telephone records, visitor logs and other White House documents should be hidden from the committee.

"While broad, these requests, and each of the other requests made by the Committee, do not exceed the Committee's legislative powers," Ms Chutkan said in her decision.

Mr Trump had argued that the materials requested by the House committee were covered by a legal doctrine known as executive privilege that protects the confidentiality of some White House communications.

He requested an injunction blocking the National Archives, a federal agency that holds his White House records, from complying with the committee's requests for hundreds of pages of documents.

Mr Jesse Binnall, a lawyer for Mr Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr Trump quickly filed a court notice indicating he would appeal the decision.

The committee has said it needs the requested materials to understand the role Mr Trump may have played in fomenting the riot.

"That's a big deal," US Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House of Representatives select committee, said in an interview on CNN.

"I look forward to getting this information. I look forward to our investigators going through it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that our government was not weaponised against its citizens."

Ms Chutkan said Mr Trump had not acknowledged "the deference owed to" President Joe Biden's determination that the committee could access the materials.

"His (Trump's) 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'," Ms Chutkan said.

"But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."

Mr Trump gave an incendiary speech before the assault on the Capitol, repeating his false claims that the November 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urging his supporters to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to "stop the steal".

His supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent Congress from formally certifying Mr Biden's election victory. Mr Biden, a Democrat, took office on Jan 20.

About 700 people face criminal charges stemming from the riot.

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