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After judge's ruling, Trump faces an uphill battle in dispute with Jan. 6 panel

Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Jan. 6, ahead of the riot at the Capitol. Trump is trying to stop the release of records to a House panel investigating the riot.
Evan Vucci
Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Jan. 6, ahead of the riot at the Capitol. Trump is trying to stop the release of records to a House panel investigating the riot.

Updated November 11, 2021 at 1:52 PM ET

Editor's Note: A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked the document release.

A federal judge's ruling earlier this week rejecting Donald Trump's claims to stop a massive document release to House investigators has set the case on a new uphill course for the former president.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House panel, said the challenge for Trump's legal team now will be to convince a higher court to reverse U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's ruling.

"I thought it was a brilliant and devastating opinion for Donald Trump and his fading hopes of burying the truth here," said Raskin, who was also the chamber's lead impeachment manager in the case against Trump earlier this year. "It was just meticulous on the facts, the statutory arguments and the constitutional arguments."

Trump's legal team quickly appealed the ruling late Tuesday, which was followed by a flurry of filings by both sides as the case moved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich tweeted after the decision that the appeal could be the key to a Trump win.

"The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts," Budowich wrote. "Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through."

Trump's legal team also filed an emergency request with the appellate court on Thursday to stop the transfer of the first wave of documents, set for 6 p.m. Friday, after Chutkan denied that request late Wednesday.

Judge rules against Trump

Chutkan held late Tuesday that public interest lies in permitting the House committee to study the events that led to the siege at the Capitol and develop legislation to prevent such an event from occurring again.

And she said, despite Trump's claims, President Biden has the authority to waive executive privilege.

"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,'" Chutkan said in her opinion. "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."

She added the probe was part of a legislative purpose and there was no harm to be shown the document release.

Chutkan reiterated that stance in the ruling late Wednesday against Trump's efforts to stop the transfer of records to the committee, adding she would not overrule the court's existing order. Rather, she said Trump could take that issue up with the appellate court.

"This court will not effectively ignore its own reasoning in denying injunctive relief in the first place to grant injunctive relief now," Chutkan said.

Speed of ruling bodes for panel supporters

Some supporters of the Jan. 6 panel probe say Chutkan's expeditious decision on Tuesday — about three weeks after the case was filed — bodes well for the case to wind its way through the courts in a matter of weeks or months.

"We're off to a good start," said Norm Eisen, a former House impeachment lawyer. "The single most important aspect of the substance of this case is that it's now incumbent on the D.C. circuit, where the appeal will go to move with equal speed. These are not meritorious claims. They are an extension of the 'Big Lie.'"

Raskin also expressed optimism for the next steps in the case, saying anyone who expected a lackadaisical response from the court was in for a rude awakening.

"It's hard for me to believe that any appeals court is going to see any grounds for a stay or in an appeal here," Raskin said.

"And you know, the problem Trump has is that all of the equities are on the other side. The underlying issue is a massive attack on the United States Congress, United States Capitol and the American democracy," Raskin added. "He's up against the well established power of Congress to obtain the information it seeks for a clearly established legislative purpose here."

Pressure to finish the work sooner rather than later

If Trump continues to fight the release of the documents, the case could continue to wind its way through the higher levels of the U.S. court system, including the Supreme Court.

The defendants in the case — which also includes committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the National Archives, the custodian of the previous administration's White House records — are arguing against any further delay in the release of the records.

Thompson said in a filing on Wednesday that the speedy enactment of legislation to avert another Jan. 6 attack depends on it.

"If the Select Committee cannot promptly receive the requested documents, it could run out of time to adequately investigate the attack and thoroughly understand its influencing factors," Thompson said. "Congress would thus be less informed and less able to develop and propose effective remedial legislation and other measures necessary to prevent the erosion of our democratic institutions for their timely enactment by Congress."

Some lawmakers have signaled that they hoped the committee could finish its work as early as the spring. But a political deadline — the November midterm elections — could also motivate the committee to wrap up quickly.

With only two Republicans serving on the Democratic-led panel, most of the House GOP, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are boycotting the committee's work. With McCarthy and others eyeing a potential takeover of the chamber in 2022, that could also mark the end of the committee's work.

Raskin said the panel is already looking at its effort with a deadline by the end of next year, when the current sitting Congress will largely end its charge.

"I believe all of us have the sense this is something we want to accomplish in this Congress," Raskin said.

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.