WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday denied President Donald Trump’s bid to quash a House subpoena for years of his financial records from his accounting firm and stayed his order seven days to give the president’s lawyers time to appeal.
The ruling handed an initial defeat to Trump’s vow to defy subpoenas by House Democrats and came in one of the first courtroom challenges to a series of lawmakers’ investigative demands for his bank records, accounting statements and tax returns.
District Judge Amit Mehta of Washington refused to block the records request to Mazars USA from the House Oversight and Reform Committee while litigation continues. Attorneys for Trump and associated businesses filed suit April 22, arguing that Congress is not entitled to investigate his past personal financial dealings for potential corruption.
“So long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which ‘legislation could be had,’ Congress acts as contemplated by Article I of the Constitution,” Mehta said in a 41-page opinion. Mehta ruled that the committee’s assertions that Trump’s records will help it consider strengthening ethics and disclosure laws and enforce a constitutional ban on acceptance of foreign gifts by a president were “facially valid,” saying, “It it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.”
In court, Douglas Letter, general counsel of the House of Representatives, has charged that the lawsuit would dismiss Congress’ constitutional oversight powers as “a nuisance . . . getting in (Trump’s) way while he’s trying to run the country.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s private attorney Jay Sekulow said when the lawsuit was filed that the president’s team “will not allow Congressional Presidential harassment to go unanswered.”
An appeal would test decades of legal precedent that have upheld Congress’ right to investigate, arguing the novel theory that a president’s past dealings are irrelevant to the legislative branch’s fundamental job of writing bills. The legal battle comes as House Democrats seek to probe Trump’s finances, his campaign and allegations he sought to obstruct justice in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump, his three eldest children and companies raised similar arguments in a bid to block a subpoena by the House Financial Services Committee for Trump’s bank records issued to Deutsche Bank and Capital One, which a federal judge in Manhattan will hear Wednesday.
The White House is also resisting House demands for former White House counsel Donald McGahn’s records and testimony pertaining to federal investigations of Trump, as well as by testimony by Mueller himself over his recently concluded report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Democrats have said the lawsuits are long-shot bids to delay the unearthing of politically damaging information about Trump until after the 2020 election, and to obscure from the public ongoing conflicts of interest by officials charged with executing the nation’s laws.
Trump’s attorneys say Democrats’ true goal is not governance but political advantage, to expose the Trumps’ “private financial information for the sake of exposure, with the hope that it will turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the President.”
In the Mazars case, Mehta cut down Trump lawyers’ arguments that the oversight committee’s inquiry into whether Trump misled his lenders by inflating his net worth violated the Constitution’s separation of powers, by having Congress assume the Justice Department’s powers to investigate “dubious and partisan” allegations of private conduct.