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Federal judge rejects Trump's bid to block the release of Jan. 6 documents

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A judge has blocked Donald Trump's bid to keep the public from seeing what he did on January 6. The ruling came last night. The former president asserted a right to secrecy, saying he should be able to keep Congress from examining documents relating to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. He claimed executive privilege, a president's power to keep some communications private. The judge rejected that because he is no longer president, and Congress is doing its job. Trump's lawyers are appealing, but the chairman of the House investigation, Representative Bennie Thompson, calls this ruling a big win. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here with us this morning. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Remind us exactly what documents the committee is after here.

MONTANARO: Well, the congressional investigative panel is seeking more information about what happened on January 6. You know, what did the president know? When did he know it? And what was he saying and doing behind the scenes leading up to this day and on the day of? We have lots of different, you know, timelines and specifics about what could have happened. There are some 800 pages of information they're seeking. They're looking at communications like emails, visitor logs. They also want to look at draft speeches, talking points, memos with possible legal strategies. The investigators say, you know, it's for going after this information because, in their words, the then-president helped foment the breakdown in the rule of law.

And remember here; the panel stepped up its pressure and actions in recent days - issued almost two dozen subpoenas to people close to the president, wanting them to testify. They declined to come forward for the most part, voluntarily, and the former president's trying to assert executive privilege.

MARTIN: OK, so say more about what the judge has decided then.

MONTANARO: Well, the judge, Tanya Chutkan, said she agreed with congressional investigators who say that, quote, discovering and coming to terms with the causes underlying the January 6 attack is a matter unsurpassed - of unsurpassed public importance. She said, seeking this information relates to our core democratic institutions and the public's confidence in them. And she went on to say that it's in the public interest to get the - get to the bottom of what happened and to prevent such events from happening again. Now, Trump had sued the National Archives to try and shield the records, keep them out of the public eye. That's because the current president, Joe Biden, decided not to exert executive privilege. The judge punctuated that in her ruling, saying presidents are not kings, and the plaintiff is not president.

MARTIN: I mean, Trump's team says it's appealing. But, I mean, could we see these documents released?

MONTANARO: The timeline here is that the records could be released to Congress as early as Friday, but Trump is trying to keep those documents secret until the U.S. Court of Appeals can weigh in. Trump's team says a president needs, quote, "full and frank advice," and that wouldn't be possible if every communication were to become public. Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who you alluded to earlier and chairs the committee, dismissed Trump's appeal as an attempt to delay and obstruct. Here he was reacting on CNN last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: We are a nation of laws. So if you take your issue to court and lose, then you need to man up and deal with it and not be a spoiled brat.

MONTANARO: And Trump's team and associates certainly could try and delay things past the midterm elections, believing, you know, that Republicans are likely to win the House and end this investigation.

MARTIN: I mean, so on that, on the political implications, do Republicans think there's grist to be made of all of this for them?

MONTANARO: I mean, Republicans just don't want any of this to be the focus going into 2022. They feel they've got the momentum right now, heading into next year, and they just don't think a spotlight on January 6 benefits them at all politically. So they're on board with what Trump wants to do and try to be able to push this off and not have this be the focus.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.