President Donald Trump appeared to be heading toward a loss in his courtroom attempt to stave off the release of his personal financial records to congressional investigators as two of three judges on an appeals panel hearing the case Friday resisted arguments that a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee to the President’s longtime accounting firm was unlawful.
Over more than two hours of debate in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Judges David Tatel and Patricia Millett expressed skepticism of claims by a personal lawyer for the President that the subpoena, which seeks a vast amount of communications and documents related to work done by Mazars, the accounting firm, for Trump and his businesses, did not have a proper legislative purpose.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee chairman who issued the subpoena earlier this year, has said that the financial records are necessary to assess Trump’s compliance with ethics regulations and to inform lawmakers on proposed legislation, and in the hearing Friday, Tatel referenced a number of relevant bills that Congress has already considered this term.
“These bills have passed the House and they are directly related to the subject of the subpoena. Do we just ignore those?” Tatel, a Clinton appointee, said, referring to HR 1, a sweeping ethics reform package that passed the House along party lines in March.
A DC district court judge, Amit Mehta, sided with the House in the Mazars case in a May ruling that cited Watergate and other historical moments that, he wrote, show “that congressionally-exposed criminal conduct by the president or a high-ranking Executive Branch official can lead to legislation.”
That ruling was quickly followed by an appeal from Trump’s lawyers to the court of appeals, which in turn paused the accounting firm’s need to comply with the congressional subpoena.
On Friday, William Consovoy, the lawyer for the President, urged the appeals panel to also consider the “real object” of the subpoena, which he said was a law-enforcement-driven hunt for wrongdoing on the part of the President.
He referenced a reported comment by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she wants to see Trump “in prison” and suggested the Democrats’ ethics proposals were not serious efforts.
Neomi Rao, the third judge on the panel, who was appointed by Trump earlier this year, also appeared doubting of that theory, invoking case law that showed “motive” could not be considered when challenging the House’s move.
Rao, however, appeared unimpressed with the argument of Douglas Letter, the US House general counsel, that the Oversight Committee had full authority to scrutinize the actions of the president in the case.
Two other House Committees are pursuing additional financial records related to Trump, his businesses, and his children, in a similar suit pending before a New York appeals court.
In the New York case, Trump is challenging a subpoena from the Democratic-led House Intelligence and Financial Service Committees seeking records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One bank.
A federal judge in Manhattan shot down the Trump legal team’s attempt to stop those subpoenas in May, and the President’s lawyers have since appealed to the circuit court there.
A hearing before a panel of judges in the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for next month.