IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Presidents are not kings': Judge rejects Trump's bid for Jan. 6 secrecy

Donald Trump didn't just lose his case demanding secrecy for his Jan. 6 materials, he did so in dramatic fashion.

Donald Trump and his legal team have spent weeks fighting to keep secret White House documents related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. As NBC News reported overnight, a federal judge has handed the former president an important defeat.

A federal judge on Tuesday sided with the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot by refusing to block the release of scores of White House documents from the Trump administration. The ruling from Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia means the first batch of disputed documents is set to be turned over to the House select committee by Friday.

The federal judge seemed wholly unimpressed with Team Trump's legal arguments, explaining in her ruling that the former president "does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent President's judgment. His 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.' But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.

"He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent President 'is not constitutionally obliged to honor' that assertion. That is because Plaintiff is no longer situated to protect executive branch interests with 'the information and attendant duty of executing the laws in the light of current facts and circumstances.' And he no longer remains subject to political checks against potential abuse of that power."

Chutkan concluded, "Accordingly, the court holds that the public interest lies in permitting — not enjoining — the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again."

For those who may need a refresher about how we arrived at this point, it was several weeks ago when the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack requested extensive materials from the White House, prompting Trump to demand absolute secrecy.

In fact, the former president and his team have tried to exert "executive privilege" to block the select committee's requests. As NBC News recently noted, as a matter of tradition, sitting presidents have shielded White House materials at the request of their predecessors. But not this time: President Joe Biden and his team concluded that there are "unique and extraordinary circumstances" surrounding the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol.

Trump and his team sued both the committee and the National Archives, which houses presidential records. Last night's ruling, concluding that the disclosure decision rests with the current president and not his predecessor, was in response to that lawsuit.

Though the Republican's lawyers have already moved forward with their plans to appeal, Congress is poised to receive the requested documents later this week. According to the National Archives' recent tally, there's quite a bit to be learned from the materials: The bipartisan committee will soon be able to review everything from call logs to handwritten notes, internal emails to draft presidential memoranda.

Not surprisingly, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the Jan. 6 investigatory committee, issued a written statement applauding the ruling. "The Select Committee appreciates the Court's swift and decisive ruling on the former President's lawsuit, which I consider little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation. The presidential records we requested from the National Archives are critical for understanding the terrible events of January 6th. Along our country's history, the Executive Branch has provided Congress with testimony and information when it has been in the public interest. This evening's ruling is consistent with that tradition. And in my view, there couldn't be a more compelling public interest than getting answers about an attack on our democracy."

What's more, this wasn't the only development of note from late yesterday. Just hours before the district court ruling, the Jan. 6 committee issued a new batch of subpoenas — the panel's sixth such batch — seeking information from 10 former officials from the Trump administration. The list included some high-profile figures, including Kayleigh McEnany and Stephen Miller.

Watch this space.