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Federal Appellate Court Affirms Congress’s Urgent Need for Access to January 6th Records

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On December 9, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit soundly rejected former President Trump’s attempt to prevent Congress from accessing records necessary “to investigate a violent attack on its home and its constitutional operations.” The unanimous ruling in Thompson v. Trump overwhelmingly affirms “Congress’s uniquely weighty interest” in investigating the facts and causes of the January 6th insurrection to safeguard our democratic institutions.

“At issue before the court was whether a former president’s armchair assertions of executive privilege from Mar-a-Lago prevail over an agreement reached by the two elected branches of government,” said Erica Newland, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “The court’s decision is not just a repudiation of the former president’s vague claims of privilege, but a recognition of the stakes of the Select Committee’s investigation.”

As the court explained, Congress “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… 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.”

Protect Democracy filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of 77 former members of CongressRepublicans and Democrats with more than 1,023 years of combined serviceurging the court to recognize that Congress’s extraordinary interests in acquiring information about an assault on itself far outweigh any plausible claims of privilege by a former president who himself is implicated in the attack. The court agreed, explaining that “[e]ven under ordinary circumstances, there is a strong public interest in Congress carrying out its lawful investigations… [but] that public interest is heightened when, as here, the legislature is proceeding with urgency to prevent violent attacks on the federal government and disruptions to the peaceful transfer of power,” as happened on January 6th during which “former President Trump and his advisors played a materially relevant role.”   

As the court concluded: “The events of January 6th exposed the fragility of [our] democratic institutions and traditions that we had perhaps come to take for granted.” Given the circumstances, Congress is moving with necessary urgency. Should the former president appeal this court’s ruling, the Supreme Court must likewise move with dispatch.