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Explainer: What's the Jan. 6 committee looking for in Trump's White House records?

World Nov 10, 2021 12:30PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during his first post-presidency campaign rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, U.S., June 26, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump is seeking hundreds of pages of records from the Republican former president's final months in the White House.

Trump is fighting the requests and has appealed a U.S. judge's decision to allow the National Archives to release the documents, citing executive privilege.

Here is an explanation of what the congressional committee is seeking, and what could happen next.

WHAT RECORDS HAS THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE ASKED FOR?

The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee has requested a trove of documents including White House visitor logs, schedules, call records and handwritten notes from Trump's then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The committee is also seeking emails between Trump advisers about contesting the 2020 presidential election and planning the Trump rally near the White House on Jan. 6.

Additionally, the committee has requested photos and video relating to Trump's public comments on Jan. 6, when he made a fiery speech to the rally falsely claiming that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Select Committee, told CNN on Tuesday that the ruling allows it to see outtakes of a video Trump filmed on Jan. 6 as the riots were unfolding.

In that video, Trump urged supporters to "go home in peace," but also "we love you, you’re very special." He also repeated multiple false claims about the election being stolen.

Thompson told CNN Trump filmed the video six times because his advisers thought he was not forceful enough in telling the rioters to go home.

WHAT TIMEFRAME DO THE WHITE HOUSE RECORDS COVER?

Most of the Trump White House records are from the final weeks of his presidency. But the committee has also sought communications from as early as April 2020 that would shed light on when and why Trump decided to spread false claims that the November 2020 election was rigged against him.

During a court hearing last week, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan questioned whether some records from April 2020 were necessary to the committee's investigation.

But the judge said in her decision that, while the Committee has "cast a wide net," its requests "do not exceed the Committee’s legislative powers."

WHAT DOES TRUMP ARGUE?

Trump has invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that presidents have used to keep their communications confidential. Executive privilege is rooted in the idea that presidents should have some privacy in their discussions with advisers so they can receive the most candid advice possible.

Chutkan said in her decision that the public interest in figuring out what happened on Jan. 6 outweighs Trump's privilege claim, adding that deference must be showed to President Joe Biden's determination that the Trump records should be released.

"The legislative and executive branches believe the balance of equities and public interest are well served by the Select Committee’s inquiry," Chutkan wrote in her decision. "The court will not second guess the two branches of government that have historically negotiated their own solutions to congressional requests for presidential documents."

She added: "Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Trump has asked an appeals court to issue a temporary ruling, known as a "stay," blocking the National Archives from turning over the documents to the Select Committee. The purpose of the requested stay would be to allow Trump to appeal Chutkan's decision.

The National Archives has said it will send the documents to the committee on Friday, Nov. 12, unless there is a court order instructing it not to.

Explainer: What's the Jan. 6 committee looking for in Trump's White House records?
 

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