Appeals court lets House panel subpoena Trump financial records

The decision is the latest in a yearslong fight between Trump and the House Oversight and Reform Committee

A memorandum written by House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney was used in court Friday to justify the committee’s investigation to uphold parts of the subpoena. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A memorandum written by House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney was used in court Friday to justify the committee’s investigation to uphold parts of the subpoena. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 8, 2022 at 4:09pm

A House committee can get some of Donald Trump’s financial records it subpoenaed from accounting firm Mazars USA as part of a probe into the former president’s finances, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the latest in a yearslong fight between Trump and the House Oversight and Reform Committee that has already gone to the Supreme Court once.

The appeals court found the committee had justified seeking various Trump records, including payments made to Trump or Trump entities in 2017 and 2018 from “foreign and domestic government actors” that might indicate a violation of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.

The decision also would allow the committee to get documents from 2016 to 2018 surrounding his company’s redevelopment of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., as a luxury hotel and records from 2014 to 2018 with potential financial information that was not disclosed during his campaign or tenure in office.

But the ruling narrowed the committee’s request substantially, finding the panel had not provided enough justification under a test the Supreme Court announced in a 2020 decision in the case.

“[W]e uphold the Committee’s authority to subpoena certain of President Trump’s financial records in furtherance of the Committee’s enumerated legislative purposes. But we cannot sustain the breadth of the Committee’s subpoena,” Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote.

The opinion also found that the Supreme Court’s balancing test for a sitting president still applies even though Trump is out of office. There, the Supreme Court expressed concern that unlimited congressional subpoenas could let the legislative branch “declare open season” on the president.

“We do not accept the Committee’s invitation to abandon the Supreme Court’s Mazars test in the Mazars case itself,” Srinivasan wrote.

Srinivasan wrote that future congressional committees “could wield the threat of intrusive post-Presidency subpoenas to influence the actions of a sitting President” and defeat the purpose of the test.

Representatives for the committee and Trump could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The ruling will likely be appealed. And in a separate concurrence, Judge Judith Rogers noted that the parties may seek a rehearing or a hearing from the full D.C. Circuit.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson participated in the oral arguments in the case last year while sitting on the D.C. Circuit, but Srinivasan noted she did not participate in the opinion.

At issue is a subpoena first issued by the committee in 2019 seeking a broad range of Trump financial records from Mazars. A trial court upheld the subpoena, which the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

But in a 7-2 decision in 2020, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the district court, imposing a four-part “Mazars test” to balance the interests of Congress and the president.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee restarted its push for the records at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Judge Amit P. Mehta upheld the subpoena. Trump then appealed to the D.C. Circuit.

In Friday’s opinion, Srinivasan used a memorandum written by committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., after the Supreme Court case to justify the committee’s investigation to uphold parts of the subpoena.

He noted that Trump’s records could illuminate issues like the structure of payments from foreign governments or the General Service Administration’s management of the Old Post Office Building lease to help write future legislation.

Rogers, in her concurring opinion, noted that the case dealt with “difficult” questions about congressional subpoenas to the president that the court hasn’t had to confront until now.

The ruling could also impact congressional investigations next year, as Republicans have signaled they intend to investigate President Joe Biden’s family. House Oversight and Reform ranking member James R. Comer, R-Ky., has sought information about business dealings by Biden’s son Hunter multiple times this Congress.