Echoing arguments made by personal attorneys for President Trump, the Justice Department weighed in Tuesday on Trump’s side in his bid to halt a congressional probe of his finances.
Trump took the unprecedented step of hiring personal attorneys to try to halt a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee seeking financial records from his longtime accountant, Mazars USA LLP.
Accusing House Democrats of issuing “sweeping subpoenas purportedly justified by vague incantations of hypothetical legislative purposes,” DOJ attorneys argued in the Tuesday filing that the subpoena “raises significant separation-of-powers issues.”
The DOJ filing is the first time the Trump Administration has taken a position in court on the President’s bid to halt Congress’ investigations of himself. The Justice Department filed its brief after the DC appeals court asked it to during oral arguments in the case last month. The judges wondered aloud why the government had not taken a position on the matter.
The government’s position, it turns out, echoes that of Trump’s, suggesting that the House had failed to define a legislative purpose for its investigation
The DOJ said that the subpoena – issued as part of an investigation into whether Trump misstated his finances or is susceptible to untoward influence – “is in practical effect no different from one served on the President.”
Even though the subpoena itself went to Trump’s accounting firm, and not he himself, “he would not personally compile the requested documents even if he were the subpoena’s recipient.”
“The subpoena thus should be treated for separation-of-powers purposes as if it were directed to the President,” the DOJ brief reads.
The DOJ went on to recapitulate a centerpiece of Trump’s argument, made by his personal attorney William Consovoy. That argument covers two points raised by the DOJ in its brief: that the House has failed to state a legitimate legislative purpose for its request, and that it aims to undertake a law enforcement action – an impermissible function for the legislature.
Government attorneys argued in the brief, for example, that the “separation-of-powers concerns arising from the President’s unique status” mean that the House must “clearly identify a legitimate legislative purpose for seeking the President’s official or private records, including identifying with sufficient particularity the subject matter of potential legislation to which the information sought pertains.”
The Justice Department argued that a court should determine whether the House had stated a legislative purpose with enough particularity.
The DOJ brief goes on to demand that the House “provide a clearer and more particular statement of the potential legislative measures for which the subpoenaed materials are pertinent and necessary” before the court evaluates whether the subpoena is justified.
For the legislative justifications that the House has offered, the DOJ dismisses as a “scattershot collection of legislative proposals” which only highlight “why a clearer and more particular statement of legislative purpose is necessary here. ”
At one point in the filing, the Justice Department appeared to echo an argument made by appeals court judge and recent Trump appointee Neomi Rao.
Rao had sharply questioned attorneys for the House at July arguments about whether Congress had authorized the investigation.
In a bid to provide background on the request, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) circulated a memo in April which provided a description of the panel’s investigation and a rationale for the probe.
The Justice Department, for its part, wrote in the Tuesday filing that “the memorandum was not ratified by the full House and is thus insufficient.”
Read the filing here: