Constitution Daily

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Court pace quickens on Trump records disputes

May 23, 2019 by Lyle Denniston


The pace of court review of President Trump’s resistance to handing over his financial records to Congress quickened on Wednesday, as a second federal judge refused to protect those documents from disclosure and lawyers in a separate case moved to put that one on a fast appeal track.

In a U.S. District Court in New York City, Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled promptly during a hearing on the Trump legal team’s plea seeking to block enforcement of a subpoena from the House Financial Services Committee for Trump financial records held by Deutsche Bank and Capital One Financial Corp.

As the hearing unfolded, the judge told the lawyers he was not going to block the committee’s demand, and then after the hearing quickly issued a one-page order refusing a temporary order against enforcement of the subpoena.  He also refused to delay his ruling to allow the President, three of his children and several of his companies to pursue an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  The order did not spell out his reasoning further. 

The judge also turned aside a request by the House committee to rule, at the same time, in a final way on the validity of the subpoena.  That meant that the case could move on toward a trial in Judge Ramos’s court unless the Trump team gets the Second Circuit Court to order a delay.  Absent such a delay, the bank records would have to be turned over.

The New York judge was the second federal jurist this week to rule against the President and his associates in their resistance to congressional subpoenas.  On Monday, District Judge Amit P. Mehta of Washington, D.C., ruled in a final way, upholding a subpoena to an accounting firm for the Trump companies to hand over financial records to the House Oversight Committee.

Judge Mehta’s ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  On Wednesday, the two sides in that dispute filed a formal request that the appeal be put on an expedited schedule, with written legal arguments to be completed by July 12, with a hearing by a Circuit Court panel soon after that date.

The two sides told the Circuit Court that they had agreed that, if the court granted the plea to expedite the review, the House committee would not seek to enforce its subpoena while the appeal unfolds.  The accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP, agreed to continue collecting the records but not to turn them over during the appeal.

If the Circuit Court declines the motion to expedite, the Trump team said it would file a prompt request to put Judge Mehta’s ruling on hold during an appeal and the House committee said it would not try to enforce its subpoena until the delay request was decided by the court.

The joint document did not mention the possibility that the case could be moved on to the Supreme Court, leaving at least the temporary implication that both sides are willing to await the D.C. Circuit’s review before moving on up the chain of the federal courts.

However, it is expected that the constitutional issues are of such importance that this case or some other will eventually reach the Justices for a final ruling.

With the Washington case continuing into the summer, any pursuit of the case to the Supreme Court would reach the Justices during their summer recess.  However, they would be able to act on it, at least in a temporary way, despite being absent from Washington.

The congressional committees’ demands for financial records of the President, his family and their business firms grow, in part, out of congressional testimony by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that Trump routinely manipulated those records in order to enhance his chances for bank loans or to reduce his tax obligations.   The committees insist that they need the records to help decide whether any new federal laws are needed, especially on the financial ties of a President.

The President and his associates continue to argue, in various forums, that the congressional investigations are not being carried out in pursuit of any legitimate legislative purpose, but are simply political gestures to harm the President and impair his service in the White House.

Lyle Denniston has been writing about the Supreme Court since 1958. His work has appeared here since mid-2011.


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