Congress

Judge sides with Congress in subpoena fight over Trump records

House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., right, seen here with ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has subpoenaed the financial records of President Donald Trump, and got a favorable court ruling to do so on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal district court judge in Washington sided Monday with Congress in President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to block lawmakers from getting eight years of his financial records from an accounting firm.

The 41-page ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in favor of the House Oversight and Reform Committee was not unexpected, and his ruling describes sweeping congressional power to subpoena records for what appears on its face to be a valid legislative purpose.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to appeal the ruling and extend the case.

The case is the first showdown over Trump’s efforts to stonewall investigations by House Democrats, including his lawsuit that argues the committee lacks a legitimate legislative purpose to force Mazars USA to turn over records.

But Mehta pointed out that the committee believes the requested records will aid its consideration of strengthening ethics and disclosure laws and penalties for violating them. And it will help monitor the president’s compliance with the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution that requires a president get congressional approval before accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments.

And, Mehta said, “it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.”

Courts have grappled with the scope of Congress’ investigative power for more than a century, Mehta said, and previous decisions state mean judges must presume Congress is acting in furtherance of its constitutional responsibility to legislate and defer to lawmaker judgements about what Congress needs to carry out that purpose.

“To be sure, there are limits on Congress’s investigative authority,” Mehta wrote. “But those limits do not substantially constrain Congress.”

Mehta also denied a request from Trump’s lawyers to halt the subpoena while the case goes to an appeals court, saying the public interest in the records outweighs the risk of harm to Trump, even if there is a possibility the records leak from Congress.

“The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the President of the United States,” Mehta wrote.

The decision comes less than a week after a court hearing on the subpoena in which House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter argued in support of congressional power to subpoena these records. 

“Today’s decision is a resounding victory for the rule of law and our Constitutional system of checks and balances. The court recognized the basic, but crucial fact that Congress has authority to conduct investigations as part of our core function under the Constitution,” House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement released after the decision was released. 

The case is Trump et al. v. House Oversight and Reform Committee, Docket No. 19-1136.

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