Supreme Court Rules Trump Cannot Shield Jan. 6 Documents From Congress : The NPR Politics Podcast The court ruled that the former president cannot block the release of 800 pages of his records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. The panel also asked Ivanka Trump, Trump's daughter and a former presidential adviser, to testify, and a request for former Vice President Mike Pence could be on the way, signaling that the investigation is getting closer to Trump's inner circle.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales, and justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

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Supreme Court Rules Trump Cannot Shield Jan. 6 Documents From Congress

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BRENDAN SWEENEY: Hi. This is Brendan Sweeney (ph) in Greenwood, Ind.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Another Hoosier.

SWEENEY: I just finished with my team playing our first game of ultimate frisbee in our 2022 league. Last time we played in the Ultimate Frisbee League, our season was canceled early because of a strange, growing pandemic. This podcast was recorded at...

KHALID: 1:07 Eastern Time on Thursday, January 20.

SWEENEY: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. Go breakfast cereal theme team Count Hockula (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Things may have changed, but that strange growing pandemic is still here.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yeah. True.

KHALID: I know, right? I know - not to start this plot on a depressing note.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: Anyhow, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

LUCAS: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

KHALID: The former president, Donald Trump, has been trying to block the release of some of his White House records surrounding the January 6 attack on the Capitol. But last night, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the former president, effectively paving the way for the release of some 800 pages of documents to the January 6 committee investigating the attack. And, Claudia, you have been covering the committee's work very closely. So explain to us, what exactly did the court ruling say?

GRISALES: So the court said that the lower courts that had told former President Trump that he could not block all of these documents, hundreds of pages of documents from getting to the January 6 committee, that those rulings were in the right spot, if you will, in terms of telling the former president he could not block these documents. And so this was a last attempt for the former president to try and get the Supreme Court to reverse those rulings, but that was not the case.

KHALID: So, Claudia, what kind of documents are we speaking about here? I mean, my understanding was that these documents, they exist out there. They're at the National Archives right now. But are they and have they been confidential?

GRISALES: So these are documents we have not seen, hundreds of pages, anywhere from White House visitor logs to communications among Trump's most senior advisers, family members. The committee wants to learn more in terms of the movements of the various advisers, Trump himself, these family members on January 6 and in the days and weeks prior leading up to this. It also includes calendars, schedules. And one area of key interest for the committee is a video that the former president made on January 6. It was released late that afternoon. It was an attempt, perhaps, to convince the rioters to leave the Capitol. He also said that he loved them, that they were special. But there were other takes of this video. And so that's one key area that the committee wants to learn more about.

LUCAS: And the idea is that all these documents will give the committee and hopefully ultimately the public as clear a picture as possible of what President Trump was doing kind of minute by minute throughout the lead-up to January 6, but particularly on that day itself. Is that right?

GRISALES: Exactly, that they will be able to share more of those details. Another development we had today is the committee asked Ivanka Trump, the former White House senior adviser and Trump's daughter, to come before the committee. They shared some of the details they already have. For example, they talked about General Keith Kellogg, who appeared before the committee and shared some details and gave us some ideas of what they're interested in. For example, that Ivanka was seen as the figure that day who could calm and perhaps change Trump's mind, that he was, quote, "stubborn" and that staff saw Ivanka as the answer in terms of trying to convince him to be more forceful earlier in the day to say that those rioters needed to leave the Capitol.

KHALID: But, Claudia, my understanding is this central question here about whether a president maintains executive privilege after his presidency still remains unresolved. I mean, that, from my understanding, was the attempted legal justification that former President Donald Trump was giving was that he has executive privilege. And is that question actually answered by the courts here, and if not, are we going to continue to see more fights like this?

GRISALES: I don't know that we have a full, clear answer in terms of where the line begins and ends for former presidents and their claims for executive privilege. We did keep hearing this theme from the courts, from the January 6 committee that executive privilege belongs to the sitting president, President Biden, not Donald Trump. Biden had waived executive privilege in this case. Therefore, they could move forward with the documents. That was the committee's argument. And along the way, that's what we heard from judges involved in the case is that Trump did not have much of a claim here in terms of stopping these documents. But still, this is a question, if you will, that remains unanswered. In some ways, that could be an issue in future presidencies.

LUCAS: So the Supreme Court, more than 40 years ago, found that executive privilege does extend beyond a president's term in office, but it's weaker than it is when they actually are president. And even while the president is in office, you know, executive privilege is not something that's absolute. In this instance, the lower court ruled that even if Trump were still in office, his request would not have succeeded, it would have failed, and the Supreme Court last night upheld that. It said that, you know, they don't need to get into decisions of executive privilege after someone leaves office.

I did find it interesting, though, that Brett Kavanaugh chimed in in this Supreme Court ruling. And he basically said that even though the court is blocking this request, he wanted to underline that in his view, a president does continue to hold executive privilege once they're out of office. But he also said that this extends, quote, "even if the current president does not support the privilege claim," which was the instance here, and because he said concluding otherwise would essentially eviscerate the executive privilege for presidential communications.

So, you know, we don't have a final answer on this. It's still a murky issue. I can't think of another instance in which you have a disagreement like this between a sitting president and a former president over questions of executive privilege. But in this instance, you know, the courts basically came down on the side of there's a need for this information to be disclosed to Congress. And so here we are.

KHALID: All right. Well, let us take a quick break. We'll have lots more to discuss in just a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: And we're back. And, you know, we've seen a lot of action from the January 6 committee lately. I've got to imagine, Claudia, this decision is a big victory for some of those members. You know, they had been asking for these documents. What are you hearing from them?

GRISALES: Yeah, this is a big victory for them. They've essentially hit the jackpot in terms of this investigation. They really wanted to get their hands on these hundreds of pages of documents from the Trump administration that will answer a lot of the pending questions. And so, for example, talked to Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the panel, today, and they're very much looking forward to answering some of these questions, getting into some of these details that they haven't been able to obtain. And talking to another member about it, Jamie Raskin, he talked about how this decision also from the Supreme Court has a impact on other legal cases.

JAMIE RASKIN: You know, the Supreme Court decision is a watershed for us because it just demolishes anybody's dreams of there being a former executive privilege that they might be able to grab on to.

GRISALES: And so he's referring to cases by, for example, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has sued the committee and is waiting - was waiting for this ruling. And so that's really going to hurt his case for his claims that he should not have cooperated.

KHALID: Claudia, it does feel like I've been hearing for weeks at this point about subpoenas for different people and voluntary asks. You know, I'll be honest and say it feels very confusing to me at times as to what exactly is going on and the strength of these subpoenas, because it feels like there's a lot of them. Are folks who have been voluntarily asked or even demanded to come and appear before the committee actually coming?

GRISALES: So it's a bit of a mixed bag, if you will. Some of these folks have ended up with criminal referrals that were approved by the House. Steve Bannon is one of them, another is Mark Meadows. And so some of them are seeing clear consequences that were not an option for committees in this position during the Trump administration. It is a new day.

And then in terms of folks showing up, they are having quite a bit of participation from the more than 60 subpoenas that have been issued so far. The committee has been busy. For example, controversial figures such as Roger Stone have appeared before the panel, asserted the fifth when they did, but they did appear. And so in terms of these subpoenas, they are moving a lot of traction for the committee.

KHALID: Ryan, so at the same time that there's this congressional investigation going on, there's also this criminal investigation. The Justice Department has charged 11 people who participated in the insurrection with seditious conspiracy. One of them was the leader of the Oath Keepers, this far-right militia group. And I know you have done some reporting on this. So what exactly do these charges mean? I mean, I'm really curious specifically about having this charge on the leader of the Oath Keepers.

LUCAS: Yeah. Stewart Rhodes is the individual that you're talking about there, the Oath Keepers' founder and leader. This is a big case. This is the biggest case so far, I'd say, to come out of this massive, massive Justice Department investigation into January 6. And it's big because of who's involved, members of the Oath Keepers and people with ties to it, but also because of this charge of seditious conspiracy. What the Justice Department is alleging is that this group of individuals conspired, plotted together to prevent by force, the department says in its indictment, transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden.

And the Justice Department in a 48-page indictment lays out through text messages and Facebook messages and all sorts of communications among these people. Basically, the build-up from November through January 6 and after January 6 too, what they were doing and saying. And the Justice Department says that they were plotting to basically storm the Capitol and prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election win.

GRISALES: You know, this is one point that members, Republican members, for example, had raised. There were no sedition charges, so how could this be an insurrection? And so this is one issue that Democrats are pointing to now, saying we finally have the charges. And they're expecting a lot more.

LUCAS: And this is a rare charge. You do not see this charge very much.

GRISALES: Right.

LUCAS: The last time that this charge was brought was in 2010 or so against the Hutaree militia in the Midwest. The government actually lost that case, did not succeed. There have been a number of times in which the government has brought seditious conspiracy charges against far-right extremist groups. So it's not the sort of case that the government necessarily wins or necessarily loses. It is something that they, as ever, are going to have to prove to a jury in court.

KHALID: You know, I am curious for both of you. As you look at these developments collectively, what you see happening in Congress, what you see happening at the Justice Department, does all of these developments to you all signal that these investigations could possibly be entering a new, more serious phase? Is anything different?

GRISALES: I think so. I think that in some ways for the Jan. 6 panel, it almost feels like they're nearing that final stage. This is the finale, if you will. They are racing against time. We know they're on the clock because the chamber, the House chamber could change control next year, and so this committee could very well get shut down. They also have their concerns about being politicized if it's too close to the midterm elections later this year. And so they're in a race to try and put out their findings by this summer, an interim report, a final report, a series of hearings, weeks of hearings presenting these findings. So it does seem like they are racing to the end here, at least when it comes to the Jan. 6 committee.

LUCAS: And as for the Justice Department, you know, the DOJ has come under a decent amount of criticism, actually, particularly from the left for, in the eyes of some, not kind of moving up the chain of command, for getting folks who, you know, entered the Capitol but weren't necessarily involved in planning or higher-level actions on January 6. And Merrick Garland said in a speech around the anniversary of the attack that, you know, the Justice Department built its cases methodically. It starts at the bottom, and that's how you get more information about what happened a little bit higher up. And then you get people to cooperate. And then you get more information. And you move up the chain, so to speak. Whether that's what we're seeing with this case against the Oath Keepers now, I don't know. But it certainly is a step forward in the Justice Department's investigation, if for no other reason than just they brought seditious conspiracy charges, and that's a big deal.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's leave it there for today. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

LUCAS: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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