A federal judge late Sunday resoundingly supported the Jan. 6 select committee’s effort to obtain internal Republican National Committee data about efforts to fundraise off claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
In a landmark ruling rejecting an RNC lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Tim Kelly said the select committee had demonstrated its need for the party’s data on its fundraising emails between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2021 — when the RNC and Trump campaign sent supporters messages falsely suggesting the election was stolen. The committee contends those emails helped sow the seeds of the violence that erupted on Jan. 6.
“[T]he Select Committee seeks reasonably relevant information from a narrow window during which the RNC sent emails promoting claims that the presidential election was fraudulent or stolen,” Kelly, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in the 53-page ruling.
Kelly issued an injunction to allow the RNC to appeal his ruling by May 5.
The decision is a major victory for the select committee and could open the doors to reams of internal RNC data held by Salesforce, a third-party vendor that the RNC used to run email fundraising campaigns and analyses. The select committee subpoenaed Salesforce for the records in February and the RNC filed suit soon after, seeking to block Salesforce from complying.
In a letter accompanying the subpoena, the select committee noted that Salesforce raised concerns within days of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that some of the fundraising campaigns the RNC and Trump campaign ran through its systems may have played a part in stoking the unrest that led to violence at the Capitol. The select committee is seeking Salesforce records that support the company’s analysis of those fundraising efforts, as well as data about how many RNC supporters viewed those messages and which RNC staffers logged into Salesforce’s system to deliver them.
The RNC argued that a legal victory for the select committee could grant Democrats access to the sensitive secrets of their political rivals, shedding light on internal RNC digital strategies that the party has spent years crafting. That argument was joined by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which submitted its own brief comparing the select committee’s subpoena to Watergate.
But Kelly rejected the notion that sensitive GOP data was at risk, describing it as “speculative” and suggesting any competitive disadvantage that results pales compared to the committee’s legitimate need for the documents at issue.
“Nothing suggests that the Select Committee is demanding, or that Salesforce is preparing to produce, internal RNC memoranda laying out its digital strategy,” Kelly ruled. “Obviously, information that shows which email campaigns attracted more attention, and which attracted less, has some strategic value. But on the record here, whatever competitive harm may come to the RNC from disclosure of the actual material at issue is too ‘logically attenuated’ and ‘speculative’ to defeat the Select Committee’s weighty interest.”
Kelly ruled that the select committee had narrowly tailored its request only to a set of records that would reveal the impact of the RNC’s efforts, alongside Trump, to fundraise off claims the 2020 election was stolen — messaging efforts that the select committee argues played a part in stoking the attack on the Capitol.
“That two-month window is plainly relevant to its investigation into the causes of the January 6 attack,” Kelly wrote.
Kelly also rejected an RNC argument that the select committee’s subpoena to Salesforce lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose” and was really a “law enforcement” effort that Congress was not permitted to pursue.
“The subpoena’s valid legislative purpose is apparent enough to sustain it against this challenge,” he determined.
In his ruling, Kelly swept aside a host of arguments lodged by the RNC against the Jan. 6 select committee, many of which have been made in dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump allies seeking to frustrate the committee’s subpoenas. His ruling could resonate in all of those ongoing legal battles.
For example, Kelly rejected the notion that the committee has been operating improperly because it has no members selected by GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy initially recommended five members to the panel, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them — Reps. Jim Banks and Jim Jordan — contending that they were too closely linked to Trump to be legitimate investigators. In response, McCarthy withdrew all five picks and boycotted the panel.
But Kelly argued that just because Pelosi disagreed with him — and then opted to permit the select committee to operate without its full 13-member contingent — does not make the committee invalid. Rather, Kelly noted that the House had repeatedly voted to accept the select committee’s recommendations to hold various Trump associates in contempt of Congress.
“[T]he House views the Select Committee to be duly constituted and empowered to act … even though the Select Committee has only nine members,” Kelly noted. “This understanding is reflected by the House’s adoption of the Select Committee’s recommendations to find witnesses in contempt of Congress for their refusals to comply with Select Committee subpoenas.”
Kelly also contended that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of two Republicans appointed to the committee by Pelosi, can be properly considered the panel’s ranking GOP member. Many McCarthy allies in the House and reluctant witnesses have argued that Cheney can’t be considered the ranking member because she was appointed by Pelosi.
“[T]o the extent there is any uncertainty about whether she fits the bill, on this record the Court must defer to the Select Committee’s decision to treat Representative Cheney as the ranking minority member,” he ruled.