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Trump sues to keep White House records secret, claiming executive privilege


 Former President Donald Trump sued the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and the National Archives on Monday in DC District Court, claiming executive privilege in order to keep information from his presidency hidden.

Trump's lawsuit is an attempt to obstruct the House committee's investigation of his conduct prior to and during the Capitol siege. Additionally, the court move is his latest effort in a lengthy and complex battle against subpoenas issued by the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives.

The Biden administration declined to invoke executive privilege over a first tranche of Trump-era papers, and Trump continues to fight the release of approximately 40 pages.

According to the lawsuit, the House's requests for executive branch papers are "unique in their breadth and scope and are unrelated to any legitimate legislative purpose."

Additionally, it asserts that President Joe Biden's failure to protect certain records was a "political maneuver to appease his partisan backers." In a statement announcing the lawsuit, a Trump spokesperson leaned into this argument, accusing Democrats of attempting to alter the political narrative with their January 6 investigation.

"With Biden's approval ratings plummeting and Democrats' hold on 2022 slipping away, it's easy to see why the Democrats and the media want to divert America's attention away from the following: Afghanistan's surrender, skyrocketing inflation, a border crisis, crippling COVID mandates, and a stalled legislative agenda," said Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for Trump and his political organization.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, responded Monday night in a joint statement that "The former President's clear objective is to prevent the Select Committee from obtaining the facts about January 6, and his lawsuit is an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation. We have precedent and the law on our side."

The pair vowed to "fight the former President's efforts to hinder our inquiry while successfully prosecuting our investigation on a number of other fronts."

The White House, for its part, defended its decision not to assert privilege over papers sought by the committee, claiming in a statement Monday that Trump "abused the presidency and attempted to undermine a peaceful transfer of power."

"The former president's activities posed an unprecedented – and existential – threat to our democracy, which cannot be ignored. As President Biden ruled, executive privilege should not be used to shield material indicating a clear and apparent attempt to violate the Constitution "Mike Gwin, the White House spokesperson, said in a statement.

Among the numerous legal arguments Trump is making in court, he contends that the House Committee has not made clear why it requires records from Trump's administration and that he should have some authority to keep his presidential discussions secret.

Additionally, it asserts that the Presidential Records Act is unconstitutional if "read broadly enough to provide an incumbent President unlimited authority to waive the executive privilege of the former President barely months after an administration change."

The National Archives is scheduled to provide the requested documents to Congress early next month, putting Trump's court pursuit on a tight deadline if he wishes to prevent the information from being released to the House.

Trump points to the tax returns case for assistance.

Trump asserts in the complaint that the House committee is engaged in a politically motivated "fishing expedition."

His attorneys argue that the House committee lacks a legitimate legislative purpose – and that the Supreme Court will rule in 2020 that Congress must have one when requesting material about the President.

The House select committee "clearly feels it has been given carte blanche to request a broad range of papers and information," Trump's attorneys said on Monday.

Several of Trump's claims in Monday's complaint reference the Supreme Court's decision on the House's 2019 subpoena for Trump's tax information from Mazars USA. In that case, the Supreme Court remanded the House's demand for papers to the lower court to ensure that the separation of powers was not violated and that Congress had legitimate legislative reasons for obtaining information about a President.

That case included a different set of circumstances than the one Trump is bringing now. Congress sought Trump's personal financial records in that case, but this case concerns "documents generated by the administration," according to Greg Lipper, a criminal and constitutional lawyer in Washington, DC.

"Trump is asking the court not just to determine whether the records are privileged on its own, but also to override the office's existing holder," Lipper added.

And, as Jeffrey Robbins, a former Senate counsel who is now in private practice, emphasized to CNN, the Supreme Court "did not declare that the subpoena was unconstitutional or that Congress could not receive it" in the Mazars case.

"The Supreme Court has often stated that Congress should be accorded enormous deference in conducting investigations and assessing what falls within the scope of its own authority," Robbins said.

Trump's battle against the Mazars subpoena, however, delayed the House from obtaining records until after he left office – and the records are still not in the hands of the House Oversight Committee.

The lawsuit against the Archives might similarly stretch out the House's pursuit of White House materials relating to January 6 beyond the next congressional elections, particularly if the fight enters an appeals process that lasts longer than Democrats' control of the House.

"Trump has exhibited an ability to press the point of no return," said Paul Rosenzweig, a professorial lecturer in law at The George Washington University School of Law and founder of Red Branch Consulting. "He has a history of successfully use litigation as a weapon, and this is another one."

Archives to make documents public

Meanwhile, Trump has only a few weeks to persuade a court to intervene.

According to the former President's lawsuit against the publication of those documents, the National Archives informed Trump that it would give over materials to Congress that he wishes to keep hidden on November 12 – unless a court intervenes.

According to a letter from Archivist David Ferriero last week, the Archives talked with the Justice Department and the White House and determined that the committee should receive the materials it requested, despite Trump's opposition to the release of some records from his presidency. On Monday, Trump's lawsuit included a copy of that letter as an exhibit.

Ferriero informed Trump in the letter that, "without any intervening judicial order," the archive would reveal to the House committee all "relevant" papers that President Trump determined were entitled to executive privilege on November 12.

Trump's lawsuit now faces increased urgency as a result of the Archives' newly announced timeframe, which may push Trump to ask the courts to intervene soon to avert the deadline.

This story was updated Monday with further reporting.

This report was contributed to by CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Zachary Cohen, Ryan Nobles, and Manu Raju.

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