- A federal judge declined on Monday to block a House Oversight Committee subpoena of President Donald Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA.
- The move strikes a significant blow to Trump’s stated strategy of fighting “all the subpoenas” Congress sends his way.
- In challenging the subpoena, Trump’s lawyers leaned heavily on the argument that it does not answer a specific legislative purpose and instead amounts to a fishing expedition that it claims Congress does not have the right to do.
- Lawyers representing the committee, meanwhile, argued that it does serve a legislative purpose because if they find out the president violated the law, they can amend the statute going forward.
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US District Judge Amit Mehta declined to block a congressional subpoena of President Donald Trump’s accounting firm on Monday.
At the center of the legal battle is a subpoena the House Oversight Committee sent to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, seeking several years of Trump’s financial records. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight Committee chairman, called it a “friendly subpoena” because Mazars USA had requested one from the committee before turning over records related to the president’s finances.
In turn, Trump and several of his businesses sued Mazars USA, Cummings, and Peter Kenny, the chief investigative counsel for House oversight Democrats, to block the subpoena.
“So long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which ‘legislation could be had,’ Congress acts as contemplated by Article I of the Constitution,” Mehta said in a legal opinion on Monday.
The opinion also acknowledged that Congress’ claims that Trump’s records will help lawmakers determine whether they need to strengthen ethics laws and enforce a ban on a president accepting foreign gifts are “facially valid.”
“It is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations,” Mehta added.
At a hearing last week, the judge pushed both sides hard over the merits of their claims and didn’t let either of them off the hook.
Trump’s lawyers leaned hard on an argument they had made in the initial lawsuit and briefs: Congressional subpoenas that address a legislative purpose are valid, while subpoenas that serve a law-enforcement or investigative purpose are not. Cummings’ subpoena, according to Trump’s lawyers, does not have a legislative purpose and is therefore invalid.
They also said Congress does not have the power to engage in law-enforcement actions or investigations, which they said Cummings’ subpoena amounted to. They said the committee does not have the right to investigate Trump and then take legislative steps if it uncovers something inappropriate or criminal.
But Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House of Representatives, said the subpoena answers a legislative purpose. Cummings has said he believes Trump may have violated the Ethics in Government Act, based on testimony and documents that Michael Cohen provided to the oversight committee in February.
Letter said the law requires that the president release an annual financial-disclosure form. If Trump is ignoring the law, Letter added, then Congress may need to change it, which indicates that the subpoena serves a legislative purpose.
The defence counsel pointed to the Presidential Records Act as an example of how Congress can regulate the executive branch. Letter said many former presidents destroyed records for years, but after former President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act to ensure the preservation of documents.
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