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Trump plans to appeal judge's decision to release Jan. 6 documents


We're going to bring in another voice to the conversation about the legal implications of last night's court ruling - University of Baltimore law professor Kim Wehle, a frequent guest on this program. Hi, Kim.

KIM WEHLE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So as Domenico just said, the Trump team is planning to appeal this decision. Does the former president have a case in attempting to block the release of these documents related to January 6?

WEHLE: Well, you know, whether he has a case is different from whether he has a really viable case. Just because people can raise arguments doesn't mean they're legitimate or serious. And I think we're in the latter category here. Basically, the judge says, as Domenico indicated, listen; it's Joe Biden who is the president of the United States, not Donald Trump. After Watergate, when Nixon had threatened to destroy his Oval Office tapes, Congress passed a law and said - you know what? - presidential records don't belong to presidents personally. They belong to the United States, the public, through the National Archives and that presidents can't destroy those records and then set up another statute called the Presidential Records Act. And under that statute, there are regulations that basically say, ultimately, it is the incumbent president who decides. It's the incumbent president who decides what's in the public interest because that president is the one that has the authority under the Constitution to make those decisions. Donald Trump is just a regular citizen in this moment.

And the judge, I think - you know, she indicates that this - for Donald Trump to win, he'd have to somehow show that the statutory scheme is unconstitutional in all likelihood. And that's really hard to say that, you know, a former president somehow supersedes a sitting president under the Constitution. Former presidents don't have any power under the Constitution.

MARTIN: So does Congress have other legal options that could force Trump to turn over the documents if this appeal at least results in a delay?

WEHLE: You know, in terms of the documents that are in the coffers of the United States government, no. We are seeing a flurry of subpoenas. Of course, there are other ways of getting information through witnesses' mouths. That is the people that were close to Donald Trump around and leading up to the January 6 insurrection, the famous now Willard Hotel meeting room in - on January 5 with a lot of his advisers. There was a White House meeting in December relating to the insurrection, etc. But as far as these actual documents, no, there would have to be an appeal. What we're seeing - if there is an appeal to the D.C. Circuit - the D.C. Circuit in all likelihood, I think, will affirm the lower court. And then the question is, will they appeal to the Supreme Court? - which could say, listen; we're not touching this or could take it on an expedited basis, like they've done many times recently, I think in an unprecedented way, this conservative-leaning court. Or they could say, we're not touching it; we're going to put it for next year's docket. And that would really be a travesty because this is about the future of American democracy, January 6. It's not about Republicans or Democrats. We were, you know, a hair's breadth away from government being turned over to politicians and strong arming people into power. And that is very realistic for America in the next few years as well. It - the threat hasn't gone away. And that's why it's so important that the Congress gets to the bottom of this before the midterms, where, if the Republicans take over Congress, this will end.

MARTIN: Law professor Kim Wehle from the University of Baltimore, we appreciate your context on all of this. Thank you so much.

WEHLE: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.