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Capitol Police claim Jan. 6 emails and videos are not public records; assert 'sovereign immunity' to Judicial Watch suit

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Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Judicial Watch has challenged an attempt by the U.S. Capitol Police to block the conservative watchdog group's lawsuit to obtain videos and emails from the Jan. 6 riot.

The organization is seeking records related to the security of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, communications between USCP and federal law enforcement, and all video footage from inside the Capitol between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., when the riot took place.

The watchdog group has asked for emails between the USCP executive team and the Capitol Police Board, as well as emails between USCP and the FBI, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security.

Congress, through its police department, has asserted that the requested videos and emails are not public records and that there is no public interest in their release. The police department is also claiming "sovereign immunity," which prevents citizens from suing for the release of the documents, Judicial Watch said in a press statement.

Noting that Congress is exempted from the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch said it filed its lawsuit under the common law right of access to public records after the Capitol Police refused to respond to a records request on Jan. 21, 2021.

USCP has told the court that footage recorded by its camera security system is "solely for national security and law enforcement purposes."

"Access to video footage from the USCP’s camera security system is limited to narrow circumstances and strictly controlled by USCP policy," the congressional police force said, adding that it has not made any public disclosures of footage from Jan. 6, 2021.

USCP also said there are ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions of people involved in the riot and that Congress too is investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

In court documents filed to counter USCP's request to block the lawsuit, Judicial Watch argues court precedent upholds the right of the people to know what "their government is up to."

“In ‘the courts of this country’— including the federal courts—the common law bestows upon the public a right of access to public records and documents ... the Supreme Court was unequivocal in stating that there is a federal common law right of access ‘to inspect and copy public records and documents.’ ... [T]he general rule is that all three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, are subject to the common law right,” Judicial Watch wrote.

The right of access is “a precious common law right ... that predates the Constitution itself,” the watchdog argued, citing Supreme Court precedent.

“The Pelosi Congress (and its police department) is telling a federal court it is immune from all transparency under law and is trying to hide every second of its January 6 videos and countless emails,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.

“The hypocrisy is rich, as this is the same Congress that is trying to jail witnesses who, citing privileges, object to providing documents to the Pelosi rump January 6 committee," he added.

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