Judge sides with House Democrats on some Trump financial records

The House Oversight and Reform Committee first sought the documents on Donald Trump and his businesses in 2019

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., reissued a subpoena for former President Donald Trump's financial records in February.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Calll))
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., reissued a subpoena for former President Donald Trump's financial records in February. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Calll))
Posted August 11, 2021 at 3:26pm

A federal district judge ruled Wednesday that House Democrats should obtain some — but not all — of former President Donald Trump’s tax records they seek from accounting firm Mazars USA, the latest in a more than two-year legal saga that has included a trip to the Supreme Court.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Amit Mehta used a new test the Supreme Court laid out last year for when Congress could subpoena personal financial records of a president for a legislative purpose without implicating separation-of-powers concerns.

Mehta, in a ruling likely to be appealed, decided Wednesday that the House Oversight and Reform Committee should be able to obtain some of the records on its work related to Trump’s lease on his company’s redevelopment of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., as a luxury hotel.

And he ruled that the committee should obtain some records related to whether foreign governments had paid millions of dollars to Trump businesses while he conducted foreign policy affecting those governments, related to the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.

But Mehta decided that the committee did not meet the test when it comes to documents it seeks related to Trump’s presidential conflicts of interest and financial disclosures.

The committee had offered examples of hypothetical legislation the committee may consider in the area of financial disclosures. Mehta wrote in the opinion that the committee does not adequately explain why other sources outside Trump’s personal papers could not give Congress the information it needs on that particular legislative objective.

In part, Mehta rejected the committee’s argument that the material could convince some members of Congress that proposed changes are necessary.

“It can always be said that additional facts might in theory convince on-the-fence legislators, even when the practical likelihood is exceedingly low,” Mehta wrote. “If that reason were enough, the separation of powers claims asserted by former Presidents in cases like this one would be entirely toothless.”

Mehta did not find any separation-of-powers concerns on records from Trump, Trump Old Post Office LLC, and the Trump Organization as it relates to the Old Post Office Building redevelopment and lease agreement with the General Services Administration.

House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., wrote in a memo about the subpoena, when she reissued it in February after Trump left office, that the committee could consider legislation on GSA leases. Mehta pointed to how Congress could get the same information for an ordinary leaseholder who was not or never had been president.

“By freely contracting with GSA for his own private economic gain, and by not divesting upon taking office, President Trump opened himself up to potential scrutiny from the very Committee whose jurisdiction includes the ‘management of government operations and activities, including Federal procurement,’” Mehta wrote. “That he happened to occupy the presidency for some portion of his still-in-effect lease does nothing to change that fact.”

House committees first subpoenaed Trump’s financial information in April 2019. The committee chairman who first issued the subpoena, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, died in October 2019.

The Supreme Court ruling in July 2020 for the first time put limits on congressional power to subpoena a sitting president’s personal and business information, and experts say it will make it significantly more difficult for Congress to exercise its oversight powers.

Maloney, in a statement, wrote that it was disappointing the court narrowed the subpoena and is actively considering next steps but that she is pleased the court found the committee is entitled to eight years of financial information from Trump, the Trump Organization and the post office hotel.

“Former President Trump’s opaque financial dealings led to an unprecedented federal ethics crisis,” Maloney said. “Today’s district court opinion recognized that the Oversight Committee is entitled to a broad set of President Trump’s financial records as part of our critical investigation aimed at preventing presidential conflicts of interest, self-dealing, and constitutional violations.”