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Appeals court temporarily blocks Jan. 6 committee from obtaining Trump White House records

The Jan. 6 committee had been scheduled to get the records Friday.
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A federal appeals court Thursday granted former President Donald Trump's request to temporarily block the National Archives from turning over his White House records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The committee had been set to receive the first batch of documents, which lawmakers say is key to their investigation, on Friday. In papers filed Thursday, lawyers for Trump asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to temporarily delay the turnover and to "maintain the status quo" while they push ahead with an expedited appeal.

In a brief unsigned order with no noted dissents, a three-judge panel of the appeals court granted Trump "an administrative injunction" late Thursday and set arguments for Nov. 30.

The order was issued by Judges Patricia Millett, Robert Wilkins and Ketanji Brown Jackson, all of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents. Millett and Wilkins were appointed by former President Barack Obama. President Joe Biden appointed Jackson.

Courts often issue such injunctions to allow more time to consider the underlying issues. The order was not a ruling on whether Trump or the House committee has a stronger legal argument.

"The purpose of this administrative injunction is to protect the court's jurisdiction to address appellant's claims of executive privilege and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits," the judges wrote Thursday.

Trump, who has tried to claim executive privilege over the scores of memos, e-mails and records of White House conversations and visits, contends that the records should be kept secret "in perpetuity."

Biden has disagreed and said the National Archives should release the records.

White House counsel Dana Remus told the National Archives in a letter obtained by NBC News that the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was "the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal government since the Civil War" and that Trump's efforts to keep Congress in the dark about what happened "is not in the best interests of the United States."

"Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege," Remus wrote.

The House committee and the National Archives did not oppose Trump's request to the appeals court.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan denied a request from Trump's team to "maintain the status quo" this week, saying "the status quo in this case" is that the National Archives will disclose the documents Friday "absent any intervening court order." The ruling was one of three she issued in the past week refusing Trump's demand to keep his records secret.

"At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President. And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent's view is accorded greater weight," she wrote in a separate 39-page ruling.

"Plaintiff 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,'" she wrote. "But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."

Trump has also argued that certain witnesses subpoenaed by the committee should not have to answer questions because of executive privilege, as well. One of them, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, is the subject of a criminal referral to the Justice Department for refusing to cooperate at all.

In a statement earlier Thursday, a lawyer for former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows suggested that his client would challenge the committee's requests.

"Contrary to decades of consistent bipartisan opinions from the Justice Department that senior aides cannot be compelled by Congress to give testimony, this is the first President to make no effort whatsoever to protect presidential communications from being the subject of compelled testimony," said the lawyer, George Terwilliger. "Mr. Meadows remains under the instructions of former President Trump to respect longstanding principles of executive privilege. It now appears the courts will have to resolve this conflict."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the panel's chair, responded by threatening to set in motion the same proceedings that led to Bannon's criminal referral if Meadows skips out on Friday's deposition.

"Such willful non-compliance with the subpoena would force the Select Committee to consider invoking the contempt of Congress well as the possibility of having a civil action to enforce the subpoena brought against Mr. Meadows in his personal capacity,” he said in a letter to Terwilliger.