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Court sides with House in fight for Trump financial records

Appeals court ruling is unlikely to be the end of the case

Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., praised the ruling by the court's panel on President Donald Trump’s tax returns . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., praised the ruling by the court's panel on President Donald Trump’s tax returns . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal appeals court on Friday sided with the House Oversight and Reform Committee over President Donald Trump in a fight to enforce a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s financial records.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that accounting firm Mazars USA must comply with the April 15 subpoena.

The decision is unlikely to be the end of the case. Trump’s attorneys still have an option of asking for the full D.C. Circuit to rehear the case, or petition the Supreme Court to stop the production of records as they appeal Friday’s decision.

“Today’s ruling is a fundamental and resounding victory for Congressional oversight, our Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the rule of law,” Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement.

The decision takes a narrow approach that might not carry over to the bigger fight over congressional efforts to get information related to an impeachment inquiry focused on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

The opinion, written by Judge David S. Tatel and joined by Judge Patricia Millett, noted that the court “need not decide whether the Constitution permits Congress, in the conduct of a legislative — that is non-impeachment — investigation, to issue subpoenas to a sitting president.”

“That issue is not presented here because, quite simply, the Oversight Committee has not subpoenaed President Trump,” Tatel wrote.

Tatel was appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Millett by President Barack Obama. Judge Naomi Rao, a Trump appointee, wrote a dissenting opinion.

The decision rejected Trump’s argument that the committee did not have a legitimate legislative purpose to seek the records from both before and after he took office. Trump filed the lawsuit to stop the subpoena.

Instead, the majority found that both the House rules and the Constitution — as well as prior court rulings — give the House broad authority to get records from a nongovernment custodian of the president’s financial information.

The committee had argued it has legitimate interests in investigating the accuracy of Trump’s financial disclosures and the lease of the Old Post Office Building as the site of the Trump International Hotel, as well as possible violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments.

Rao, in her dissent, criticized the majority for breaking new ground in upholding the subpoena as part of Congress’s legislative power. The House has not invoked its impeachment power for the subpoena even though it is investigating whether Trump broke the law, she wrote.

“Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress’ legislative power,” Rao wrote. “Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.”

The case is Trump et al. v. Mazars USA et al., Docket No. 19-5142.

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