Politics

Federal appeals court upholds House subpoena for Trump's financial records

Key Points
  • A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld a subpoena for President Donald Trump's financial records from the Democrat-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
  • The split ruling rejected Trump's bid to block the committee from getting eight years' worth of his records from the accounting firm Mazars USA.
  • Trump also is fighting a subpoena for his corporate and personal income tax returns, which Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. wants for a probe of hush money payments paid porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs for travel to Minnesota from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S. October 10, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a subpoena for President Donald Trump's financial records from the Democrat-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Trump's bid to block the committee from getting eight years' worth of his financial records from the accounting firm Mazars USA.

The committee on April 15 issued Mazars a subpoena for various financial statements related to the Trump Organization, the Trump Corporation and the Trump Old Post Office in Washington.

"Contrary to the President's arguments, the Committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply," Judge David Tatel wrote in the majority opinion.

"We conclude that in issuing the challenged subpoena, the Committee was engaged in a 'legitimate legislative investigation,' " wrote Tatel, who was joined by Judge Patricia Millett in the majority decision.

Tatel was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton; Millett was appointed by President Barack Obama.

The dissenting opinion came from Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed by Trump.

Trump's financial records will not be released immediately to the committee.

The appeals panel ordered that the effect of the ruling be put on hold to give Trump time to either seek a rehearing of the case by either the same panel, or by the the full line-up of D.C. Circuit judges.

Trump also can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take his appeal.

"We are reviewing the opinion and evaluating all appellate options," Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said.

"While we are reviewing the court's lengthy decision, as well as Judge Rao's dissent, we continue to believe that this subpoena is not a legitimate exercise of Congress's legislative authority," Sekulow said.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said, "Today's ruling is a fundamental and resounding victory for Congressional oversight, our Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the rule of law."

"For far too long, the President has placed his personal interests over the interests of the American people," Cummings said.

"After months of delay, it is time for the President to stop blocking Mazars from complying with the Committee's lawful subpoena. We must fulfill our stated legislative and oversight objectives and permit the American people to obtain answers about some of the deeply troubling questions regarding the President's adherence to Constitutional and statutory requirements to avoid conflicts of interest."

A spokesman for Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is a member of the Oversight Committee, noted Friday that Jordan and other GOP members of the committee had strongly objected to the issuance of the subpoena.

In a letter to Cummings in April, Jordan had written that the subpoena is "an unprecedented abused of the Committee's subpoena authority to target and expose the private financial information of the President of the United States." Jordan also said in that letter that Cummings was violating a promise "to debate and vote on Committee subpoenas."

Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general — the lawyer who argues for the federal government at the Supreme Court — said on Twitter that Trump could have a tough time getting the high court to overturn the decision given the fact that a federal judge and a highly respected appeals court have both ruled for the House.

In her dissent, Rao said: "Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress's legislative power."

"Throughout our history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment," 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."

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The majority opinion brushed aside Rao's dissent.

"To be sure, a Congress pursuing a legitimate legislative objective may, as the many examples recounted in the dissent demonstrate, choose to move from legislative investigation to impeachment," Tatel wrote.

"But the dissent cites nothing in the Constitution or case law—and there is nothing—that compels Congress to abandon its legislative role at the first scent of potential illegality and confine itself exclusively to the impeachment process."

Trump currently is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan to block another subpoena, for his corporate and personal income tax returns, which was issued by a state grand jury in New York City.

That other subpoena was sought by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office as part of a separate criminal investigation.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. is probing how the Trump Organization accounted for hush money payments paid before the 2016 presidential election to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, in exchange for their keeping quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump years earlier.

Trump has denied having sex with either woman.

A federal judge in Manhattan earlier this week dismissed Trump's effort to block the DA's subpoena.

The 2nd Circuit is set to hear Trump's appeal of that decision later this month.