Kevin Daley on November 25, 2019
The Supreme Court put a lower court decision granting House Democrats access to President Donald Trump’s personal and professional financial records on hold Monday night.
In effect, Monday’s stay means House Democrats cannot examine Trump’s finances before year’s end, and conceivably much longer. Neither the vote count nor the reasoning was disclosed, as is typical of orders of this nature.
The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena in April to Mazars USA LLP, the longtime accounting firm for the president and several Trump business entities. Trump filed suit to block that subpoena, arguing it lacks a “legitimate legislative purpose.” By Trump’s telling, Congress is acting improperly Mazars has indicated they will cooperate with the House’s request.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. rejected Trump’s bid to quash the subpoena. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that decision in October, calling the subpoena “a valid exercise of the legislative oversight authority because it seeks information important to determining the fitness of legislation to address potential problems within the executive branch.”
Chief Justice John Roberts put a temporary administrative hold on that decision Nov. 18. That decision ensured House Democrats could not access Trump’s records until the high court decided how it wants to handle Trump’s case. Without the chief justice’s stay, Congress could have enforced the subpoena as soon as Nov. 20.
Impeachment looms over subpoena fight
The House Oversight Committee issued the contested subpoena before Democrats opened their impeachment inquiry of the president. Democrats said Trump’s accounting records were relevant to ethics legislation they are considering that imposes new disclosure requirements on senior government officers, including the president. With an impeachment investigation now underway, House lawyers suggested the inquiry could serve as an alternative ground for upholding the subpoena.
The president’s lawyers counter that a defective subpoena cannot be salvaged even if it’s retroactively connected to the impeachment inquiry. If the House issues a brand new subpoena to Mazars pursuant to the impeachment proceedings, Trump’s lawyers say the Supreme Court should toss the D.C. Circuit’s October decision under legal doctrines that erase rulings in cases mooted before the justices get a chance to weigh in.
“Any attempt by the Committee to moot this case in order to thwart Supreme Court review would only confirm [Trump’s] entitlement to a stay,” Trump’s lawyers told the court in a Friday filing. “The Committee’s attempt to avoid further review while preserving the decision below as precedent should be rejected. Congress should not be permitted to benefit from such gamesmanship.”
Monday’s case is one of two disputes currently unfolding in the Supreme Court over subpoenas for Trump financial information. The other involves Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who is investigating alleged hush money payments paid to two women who claim they had sexual encounters with Trump before the 2016 election. The president has denied both relationships.
This is breaking news. This post will be updated.