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Monday, August 31, 2020

House mounts last-ditch bid for Trump's financial records

If an appeals court does not grant Congress access to President Donald Trump's financial records quickly, lawmakers will "almost certainly" miss their chance to review them before the end of Trump's term, House Counsel Doug Letter argued Monday.

In a new filing with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Letter urged the judges to resist calls to send the case back to a lower court and instead resolve the matter — which began with a subpoena in April 2019 — promptly.

"If this Court does not resolve this case now, the Trump Plaintiffs will almost certainly have succeeded in blocking the 116th Congress from obtaining any documents pursuant to its subpoena," Letter wrote.

The filing was the latest development in the House's winding quest to access Trump's financial documents from his accounting firm, Mazars USA. Democrats have said they need them as part of potential legislation to reform financial disclosures and curb corruption. Trump's decision to maintain ties to his businesses — and evidence provided by his former attorney Michael Cohen that Trump routinely inflated his assets to obtain loans — created a unique situation that required potential legislative efforts, the lawmakers argued.

But Trump sued to block Mazars from releasing his documents, setting in motion a series of legal battles that landed in front of the Supreme Court this spring. Last month, the court ruled that the House may subpoena the president's records, but that any such effort must meet rigorous standards. The high court then sent the case back to the appeals court for further review.

Letter argues that the House subpoena already meets the Supreme Court's new test — the documents it is seeking are required as part of the House's broad legislative power, and they're not overly burdensome on Trump, he said.

"If the Oversight Committee uncovers evidence that a policy decision appears to have been influenced by a payment to President Trump or his businesses, the Oversight Committee can consider recommending legislative action to address it," Letter wrote, addressing one of the new criteria set out by the Supreme Court.

He added that the appeals court has already heard ample argument and received lengthy legal briefings on the matter and does not need to send the case back to the district court for additional proceedings.

Letter has argued that Trump's ability to send the House's subpoena into multiyear litigation effectively nullifies the House's subpoena authority.

The power of congressional subpoenas was dealt another blow Monday, when an appeals court panel ruled that House subpoenas generally may not be enforced in court unless Congress passes a new statute authorizing it. Letter did not address that development in his filing, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to appeal the ruling to the full appeals court bench.

In the filing, the House emphasizes that even if Trump loses reelection, the Oversight Committee intends to pursue its investigation of Trump's finances to ensure that necessary anti-corruption reforms are made. That passage cites a 59-page memo from House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney, who laid out the House's legal position in Mazars. Letter cited Maloney's memo repeatedly in arguing for the court to resolve the matter quickly.

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