Trump's longtime accounting firm must provide financial records to Congress, appeals court rules

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s longtime accounting firm must provide eight years of financial documents under subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' 2-1 decision involving Mazars USA represented a major victory for the House amid wide-ranging congressional investigations of the president. But the case could be appealed to the full circuit or the Supreme Court.

"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.

The case is one of several legal fights between Trump and House Democrats that could redefine the powers of the two branches of government. Trump's attorneys have argued that by seeking his financial records, Congress is attempting to exercise law enforcement powers that belong to the executive branch.

Jay Sekulow, counsel to the president, said the White House is reviewing the court's lengthy ruling, which totals 134 pages, including a dissenting opinion from one of the appellate judges.

"We continue to believe that this subpoena is not a legitimate exercise of Congress' legislative authority," Sekulow said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, chair of the Oversight committee, lauded the court's ruling as a "fundamental and resounding victory" for congressional oversight and checks and balances.

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"For far too long, the President has placed his personal interests over the interests of the American people. After months of delay, it is time for the President to stop blocking Mazars from complying with the Committee's lawful subpoena," Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight committee, had opposed the subpoena, saying it represented a partisan request for sensitive financial data based on testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer who had already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

A similar case is pending in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealing with Trump’s lending records at Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled in May that Trump couldn’t block the committee's subpoena for Mazars records. The judge said that Congress' legislative and investigatory powers afford it the right to see Trump's financial documents and that the committee has outlined "valid legislative purposes" for why it needs to investigate the president.

Tatel, in the appeals court opinion, agreed, saying the subpoena from Congress seeks information "on which legislation may be had."

"In sum, we detect no incoherent constitutional flaw in laws requiring Presidents to publicly disclose certain financial information. And that is enough," Tatel wrote.

Rep. Elijah Cummings gestures as he delivers a press conference in Washington, DC.
Rep. Elijah Cummings gestures as he delivers a press conference in Washington, DC.

Judge Neomi Rao disagreed, raising in a dissenting opinion "serious separation of powers concerns about how a House committee may investigate a sitting president."

"Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government," Rao wrote.

Sekulow said the White House is also reviewing Rao's dissenting opinion.

The committee is seeking financial statements related to Trump and his businesses dating as far back as 2011, years before he announced his candidacy for president.

Cummings, D-Md., said in a memo in April that lawmakers need the records to investigate whether Trump engaged in illegal conduct before or after he became president, whether he has undisclosed conflicts of interest, whether he correctly reported his finances on government disclosure forms and whether he complied with clauses of the Constitution that prohibit a president from receiving payments from foreign governments or from domestic sources while in office.

The ruling represents the latest development in a series of investigations of Trump, his finances, and his administration in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

But Trump has called the inquiries partisan harassment and vowed to resist all the subpoenas.

Trump lost another federal court battle on Monday, when a judge rejected his efforts to block New York prosecutors from obtaining his tax returns. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had subpoenaed Trump's tax returns as part of a criminal investigation into hush money payments to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump. U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero in New York's Southern District said Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity from criminal investigations is too broad.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed a lawsuit in July from the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, which accused Trump of violating the Constitution's emoluments clause by continuing to make money from his businesses while in office. The three-judge panel did not rule on whether Trump had violated the Constitution, but said that neither Maryland nor the District of Columbia had been sufficiently harmed to bring the case to court.

Contributing: David Jackson and Kevin McCoy

More about legal clashes between President Donald Trump and Congress:

Impeach Trump? House Democrats face delicate choice as lawmakers, but not public, push for action

Trump faces uphill battle to keep financial records from Congress after lawyers clash in appeals court

'We're fighting all the subpoenas.' Congress and Trump prepare to battle over wide-ranging probes

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump accounting firm Mazars USA must turn over documents, court says