President Donald Trump is going to court to try to block a Democratically-controlled congressional committee from obtaining his financial records through a subpoena.
The lawsuit is the first case where Trump has sued to try to stymie House Democrats’ investigations into the President. But the court filing is only the first skirmish in what’s likely to be a multi-front war between House Democrats and Trump, the White House and the President’s businesses.
Trump and the Trump Organization filed suit Monday to stop the House Oversight Committee – chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland – from obtaining financial records from Mazars, an accounting firm that Trump used to prepare financial statements. The committee subpoenaed for 10 years’ worth of Trump’s financial records after the firm requested a so-called “friendly subpoena.”
In Monday’s court filing, Trump’s lawyers accused House Democrats of being “singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically.”
Cummings dismissed the legal complaint as reading “more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief,” and said it contains “a litany of inaccurate information.”
“The President has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress,” Cummings said. “The White House is engaged in unprecedented stonewalling on all fronts, and they have refused to produce a single document or witness to the Oversight Committee during this entire year.”
Trump has claimed that Mueller’s report that was released last week exonerated him on both the investigations into collusion and obstruction of justice. But the end of the Mueller investigation has also kicked the Democratic-led investigations into Trump, his administration and his businesses into high gear – giving Democrats both a road map as well as a better sense of what areas are ripe for additional investigation.
Following the release of the partially-redacted Mueller report, Democrats have turned up the heat on their investigations into the President’s finances, which received little mention in the special counsel’s report.
In addition to the House Oversight Committee subpoena to Mazars, the House Intelligence and Financial Services panels have subpoenaed nine financial institutions as part of an investigation into Trump’s finances. The President’s personal lawyers have reacted by sending letters to companies and the Treasury Department to argue they should not be handing over the information.
A separate panel, the House Judiciary Committee, has issued a subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying evidence, and chairman Jerry Nadler of New York has said he will go to court to obtain those records.
And House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who has requested six years’ worth of the President’s personal and business tax returns, is gearing up for a prolonged legal battle for the tax information if the Department of Treasury does not comply by the April 23 deadline.
Fight over congressional authority
Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten called the subpoena to Mazars “an unprecedented overreach of congressional authority.”
Jennifer Farrington, chief marketing officer, Mazars USA acknowledged they had received the lawsuit but declined to comment on the legal proceeding.
“As a firm we will respect this process and will comply with all legal obligations. As with all clients, we are precluded by our professional code of conduct and corporate policy from commenting further on inquiries of this nature,” she said.
Showdowns for information between the legislative and executive branches rarely go to court, but Democrats have said they may go that route due to administration stonewalling, which could create a new normal in the era of congressional subpoena fights.
Trump’s lawyers argued in the court filing that Cummings’ did not have the constitutional right to subpoena Trump’s financial information because it served no legislative purpose.
“Because Chairman Cummings’ subpoena to Mazars threatens to expose Plaintiffs’ confidential information and lacks ‘a legitimate legislative purpose,’ this Court has the power to declare it invalid and to enjoin its enforcement,” the lawsuit says. “Its goal is to expose Plaintiffs’ private financial information for the sake of exposure, with the hope that it will turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the President now and in the 2020 election.”
Subpoena tied to Cohen documents
Cummings issued a subpoena to Mazars last week after the accounting firm requested one to comply with the committee’s document request. He also sent a memo to committee members earlier this month, which said he issued the subpoena due to “grave questions about whether the President has been accurate in his financial reporting.”
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen provided the committee with three years’ worth of Trump financial statements, from 2011-2013, which were prepared by Mazars. Cohen accused Trump of inflating his net worth in the financial statements while he was trying to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team.
Court fights over congressional subpoenas are uncommon, but there have been several examples in recent years.
In 2017, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee successfully sued to enforce its subpoena for bank records from Fusion GPS, the firm that hired ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele for the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia.
And in 2012, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee sued for information into Fast and Furious, the gunwalking scandal that left a border patrol agent dead. Congress held then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the fight. In 2014, a judge ordered the administration to hand over more than 60,000 documents, but the fight for information is still ongoing in the courts.
The case was slightly different in the sense that Fast and Furious was an example of Congress suing the administration for information. In this instance, Trump and his businesses are personally suing to stop the accounting firm from turning over the information to Congress.
CNN’s Kara Scannell and Cristina Alesci contributed to this report.