House Minorities Hold Oversight Powers, D.C. Circuit Says

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11:  The Trump International Hotel located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. The building that was the Old Post office and Clock Tower was completed in 1899 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: The Trump International Hotel located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. The building that was the Old Post office and Clock Tower was completed in 1899 and is listed on the National Register of... WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: The Trump International Hotel located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. The building that was the Old Post office and Clock Tower was completed in 1899 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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December 29, 2020 3:56 p.m.

Lawmakers in House minorities can issue demands for records from the executive branch, a federal appeals panel held Tuesday.

In an 2-1 ruling first noticed by Politico, the D.C. circuit upheld a demand issued by  Democrats on the House Oversight Committee in 2017 for documents relating to President Trump’s downtown D.C. hotel.

The decision — issued by Judge Patricia Millett — goes to an arcane 1920s law which created the seven-member rule. That statute authorizes any seven members of the House Oversight Committee, regardless of party affiliation, to go to any part of the executive branch and demand records.

In 2017, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee did just that, demanding information from the General Services Administration about President Trump’s lease agreement for his D.C. hotel.

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GSA eventually rejected the requests, before House Democrats went to court to enforce the demand.

The ruling by Millett, an Obama appointtee, upholds the minority’s limited authority to issue these investigative demands, and comes as Joe Biden prepares to take office next month.

It also illustrates the slow churn that congressional investigations can experience when every step in an investigation must be litigated in the federal judiciary. After securing a majority in the House in 2018, Democrats launched broadsides of subpoenas to executive agencies and various third-party custodians of President Trump’s financial records.

Trump and the GOP chose to litigate those requests that focused on the President’s personal finances; the outcome of those cases remain pending.

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