President Donald Trump vowed he's "fighting all" House subpoenas, and White House lawyers indicated this week that they would tell former officials not to comply with subpoenas for their testimony.
Remember: Cummings has authority to investigate 'any matter'
By Donald Sherman
President Donald Trump has routinely undermined legitimate congressional oversight by attacking members of his own party, declaring he'll fight all House subpoenas, and blocking White House staff from testifying before Congress.
This week, the president took the extraordinary step of suing a committee chairman and congressional staffer to prevent production of financial records related to him and his businesses, pursuant to a subpoena from House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings.
The president's lawsuit asserts concerns about alleged congressional abuse of power, but it appears more directly aimed at protecting his own financial interests than constitutional safeguards.
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The Constitution does not expressly authorize Congress to compel documents or testimony, but the Supreme Court has consistently recognized that Congress has the power to investigate matters of legislative concern.
House rules afford Cummings unilateral authority to investigate "any matter" at "any time." Even if that language were not clear, the president's lawsuit erroneously claims that the committee's request for Trump financial records "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose."
The information requested by Cummings regarding Trump and his businesses' financial records are highly relevant to numerous issues before Congress. Given its legislative authority over "government management and accounting measures generally," the committee has an interest in investigating Michael Cohen's statements that Trump has made false claims about the value of his assets, which Trump would also have to report on federally mandated financial disclosure statements.
The committee also has jurisdiction over the Office of Government Ethics, which dictates how current and future presidents must report their assets. In addition, with legislative jurisdiction covering "overall economy, efficiency and management of government operations and activities, including federal procurement," the committee must know whether the Trump Organization, which maintains a federal government contract, is cooking its books.
It is also important to note that the president's accounting firm, Mazars, informed the committee it could not produce the requested records without a subpoena. Cummings also issued a memo to committee members noting his interest in the documents and soliciting input from Republicans before issuing the subpoena.
Congressional committee chairs of both parties often request financial records from individuals and entities within their jurisdiction. And while all Americans should be concerned if Congress abuses its investigative powers, it does not appear to the case here.
Trump's lawsuit is another example of his broken promise to cede management of the Trump Organization to his sons and, more important, is an irresponsible attack on the American public's legitimate interests in oversight and accountability.
Donald Sherman is the deputy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. You can follow the organization on Twitter: @CREWcrew.
What others are saying
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: "Objecting to every request on the grounds that Congress is 'partisan' is legally laughable and reflects President Donald Trump's unwillingness to 'take care' that the laws are faithfully executed. 'We're fighting all the subpoenas. These aren't, like, impartial people,' Trump said. 'The Democrats are trying to win 2020.' Well, duh. That, however, doesn’t make their subpoenas any less enforceable. Trump is delaying, thrashing about and trying to run out the clock — conduct that someone who has been 'exonerated' would have no need to engage in."
President Donald Trump, Twitter: "No collusion, no obstruction. There has never been a president who has been more transparent. Millions of pages of documents were given to the Mueller angry Democrats, plus I allowed everyone to testify, including White House counsel. I didn't have to do this, but now they want more. ... Congress has no time to legislate; they only want to continue the witch hunt, which I have already won. They should start looking at the criminals who are already very well known to all. This was a rigged system. We will drain the swamp!"
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., "Morning Joe" on MSNBC: "The legislative branch is a separate but equal co-branch of government. Article 1 is about Congress' power. That's why they wrote it as Article 1, not Article 2 or Article 14. And if you read The Federalist Papers, Madison clearly saw Congress as the preeminent branch of government. You ignore Congress' demands at your peril, your legal peril, your constitutional peril. And if he wants to get into that battle by having an across-the-board defiance of legitimate constitutional requests by Congress, then the fat is in the fire."
What our readers are saying
Of course President Donald Trump would want to take the battle over Congress' subpoenas to the Supreme Court; he is very partial to that since he believes he has two puppets sitting on the bench. Trump believes (and he is probably right) that the Supreme Court will destroy democracy to placate him.
— Al Garrison
While every administration has fought with Congress, the truth is that the amount of political rhetoric and obstruction to Trump from this Democratic Congress seems unprecedented!
— John Culbertson
If people support Trump dodging the truth, then they need to ask themselves, "What is he hiding?" If Trump is innocent, then he should be forthcoming with his tax returns and financial records.
— Nick Anderson
The left conveniently forgets the Internal Revenue Service already has Trump's records. If the IRS is good with Trump's tax returns, then they are good by me. These records are irrelevant in regards to how he runs the country, and that's what I care about, not how much he paid in taxes in 2011. Democrats are going to mess this up again, just like they did in 2016. They wonder how Trump won; it's simple, they can't offer a better alternative.
— Alex Bieri
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump is suing Congress ... with a weak lawsuit: Today's talker