President Donald Trump’s push to stonewall congressional subpoenas lands at a federal appeals court Friday, where House Democrats will once again defend their power to get years of his financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA.
The oral argument before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is one of the first lawsuits Trump filed to stymie House investigations. And it could be the first to reach the Supreme Court no matter what the panel decides, since neither the president nor Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California appear likely to back down.
In a sign of the high stakes and high interest, the D.C. Circuit set the argument for a ceremonial courtroom that is twice the size as other courtrooms and barred so-called “line standers” that hold a place in the public seating line for those willing to pay them.
The president’s lawyers will echo arguments they made at a lower court in May. They told U.S District Court Judge Amit Mehta that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform overstepped its authority to ask for the Mazars records, mainly because the committee does not have a legitimate legislative purpose for the request.
But Mehta ultimately sided with Congress and ruled that “it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.”
Trump’s lawyers, in a brief at the appeals court, said Mehta got it wrong when he rejected a meaningful review of whether the documents are actually pertinent to the committee’s stated legislative purpose. They highlighted what a lawyer for the House identified to Mehta as possible limits to congressional subpoena power.
“Instead, the district court vindicated the Committee’s breathtaking position: Congress has ‘plenary authority’ to subpoena anything except ‘probably’ someone’s ‘blood’ or his ‘diary from when’ he was ‘12 years old,’” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “No congressional subpoena could ever be invalidated under this standard.”
And Trump contends that Congress wants to put an unconstitutional extra qualification on serving as president — the elimination of financial conflicts — and the subpoena has a political motive at heart.
“It is about trying to prove that the President broke the law — an exercise of law-enforcement authority that the Constitution reserves to the executive branch,” Trump’s brief states.
House General Counsel Doug Letter argued in a brief that Mehta correctly decided that the committee’s legislative purpose was valid on its face.
That included “investigating issues of national importance” such as ethics in the executive branch, the accuracy of Trump’s financial disclosures and the ongoing management of the lease of the Old Post Office Building as the site of the Trump International Hotel.
The committee also wants to dig into possible violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments, the House contends in the brief.
“The Oversight Committee seeks to ensure that federal officials — including the President — are making decisions in the country’s best interest and not for their own financial gain, and that federal agencies charged with government leasing and ethics are operating in accordance with the law,” the House brief states.
The three judges hearing the appeal will be David S. Tatel, a Clinton appointee, Patricia Millett, an Obama appointee, and Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee.