WASHINGTON – A powerful House committee investigating President Donald Trump’s financial dealings urged the Supreme Court Thursday to validate a subpoena requiring his accounting firm to turn over several years of tax returns and financial records.
The request from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform came less than a week after Trump’s lawyers sought to block a federal appeals court’s decision that said the records from the accounting firm Mazars USA must be released.
House of Representatives General Counsel Douglas Letter argued that Trump’s legal team has not “demonstrated that any harm they will suffer if Mazars responds to the subpoena outweighs the severe harm that Congress would suffer by being deprived of information it urgently needs to exercise its constitutional functions.”
The justices are expected to decide in the coming days whether to grant Trump’s effort to delay and potentially reverse the lower court’s edict. They also are considering a similar request to block New York City prosecutors from getting the records as part of a criminal probe into payments made to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump years before his election in 2016. The president has denied their allegations.
Taken together, the cases involve broad constitutional questions. One focuses on the breadth of Congress’ investigative and legislative powers; the other involves the untested issue of whether presidents, while they are in office, are subject to criminal investigations by local prosecutors.
Last week’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called for Mazars USA to release the records by Nov. 20. But Chief Justice John Roberts agreed to a brief delay this week while the two sides file legal papers in the dispute.
In his response, House of Representatives Counsel Douglas Letter argued that the circuit court order should not be blocked while it is appealed. But if the justices agree to a delay, he said, legal papers should be submitted in the next few weeks so that the high court can consider them at its last private conference of 2019, on Dec. 13.
Trump’s lawyers have called the House subpoena an unprecedented test of the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
“It is the first time Congress has issued a subpoena, under its legislative powers, to investigate the president for illegal conduct,” the attorneys argued in reference to the House investigation. “And, for the first time, a court has upheld a congressional subpoena to the president for his personal papers.”
Trump defied the practices of past presidents and presidential candidates in 2016 when he refused to release his tax returns, claiming his hands were tied because of a federal audit. He since has continued to maintain their secrecy.
In a related case, the California Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a law aimed at forcing the president to disclose his tax returns in order to get on the state’s primary ballot next spring. The justices said the law was unconstitutional.
The two legal efforts in the D.C. and Manhattan federal appeals courts to get financial records are progressing amid other investigations, including the ongoing House impeachment proceeding. That investigation centers on whether Trump delayed nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine while pressing for investigations into the Ukrainian business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential campaign rival.
The proceeding is also examining whether Trump similarly pressed for evidence that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, backed by most congressional Republicans, has said he did nothing wrong.
Last week, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone was convicted on charges of lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in order to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.
The House committee, controlled by Democrats, is seeking records from the president, his family business, a trust, and the company that runs the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The panel wants to compare them with testimony from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as with government disclosures. Cohen, who testified to Congress that Trump routinely overstated or understated his holdings in financial records to suit his own needs, is serving a prison term in part for lying to Congress about other Trump-related issues.