A D.C. federal judge on Monday denied a request from President Trump’s personal attorneys to halt the enforcement of a subpoena from Congress to the President’s longtime accounting firm.
Judge Amit Mehta begins the opinion by quoting President James Buchanan accusing Congress of investigating him as a means of “furnishing material for harassing [the President], degrading him in the eyes of the country.”
“Some 160 years later, President Donald J. Trump has taken up the fight of his predecessor,” Mehta writes in the opinion, which offers a categorical rejection of the President’s arguments.
He adds that Trump “echo[es] the protests of President Buchanan,” and goes on to rule in favor of upholding the subpoena.
Mehta also denied a request from Trump to delay the subpoena until a potential appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court. That is expected to be the President’s next move, with the potential for the case to make its way to the Supreme Court.
Mehta issued the ruling less than one week after holding a hearing in the matter.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight Committee, had filed a subpoena to Trump accounting firm Mazars USA LLP as part of an investigation into Trump’s finances. The President then took the nearly unprecedented step of suing his accountant to stop the subpoena from being fulfilled.
Cummings is seeking years of Trump’s financial records as part of a probe that began with the testimony of Michael Cohen, who told Congress in February that Trump would routinely deflate and inflate the value of his assets to benefit himself and his businesses.
The judge cites investigations into Trump’s financial condition, and specifically Congress’s stated desire to monitor Trump’s “compliance” with the Emoluments clause, as “facially valid” reasons to allow the subpoena to be enforced.
Mehta goes into his reasons for immediately issuing a ruling. “Plaintiffs could identify no new argument that they would make if given the chance to do so” after last week’s hearing, he writes, noting that Saturday was the last day for Trump to enter additional evidence into the record. That, Mehta writes, “consisted of news reports of public statements of various Members of Congress.”
Mehta goes on to conclude that “Congress’s motives are off limits,” so long as the focus of the probe stays within the body’s broad remit to investigate. “It is not the court’s role to decipher whether
Congress’s true purpose in pursuing an investigation is to aid legislation or something more sinister such as exacting political retribution,” the opinion reads.
The court goes on to issue what appears to be a mild rebuke to Cummings for not adopting a resolution that would “spell out the intended legislative purpose and scope” of the investigation.
“While a clearly drafted resolution would have made this court’s task easier or might have preempted the challenge now brought altogether, it is not a constitutional prerequisite to start an investigation,” the filing reads.
Instead, Mehta writes that he relied on a memorandum Cummings issued on April 12 to House Oversight Committee members, outlining the nature of the investigation.
Mehta adds that Congress does not need to begin moving towards impeachment before opening an investigation into the president.
“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” he writes. “This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”
At times, Mehta’s attitude toward Trump’s argument bleeds through the text. In one footnote, he calls an argument by Trump’s attorney that Congress can only investigate government “agencies” and therefore not the president “artificial line-drawing,” and says that argument “is antithetical to the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution’s design.”
Trump’s personal attorney in Congressional oversight cases – William Consovoy – has argued in nearly every filing and letter that House Democrats lack a “legislative purpose” for whatever probe they happen to be undertaking.
Mehta writes that “history has shown that congressionally-exposed criminal conduct by the President or a high-ranking Executive Branch official can lead to legislation.” He goes on to cite the aftermath of Watergate and the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal as examples, adding “the current era of congressional investigations” could lead to “an equally ambitious legislative agenda.”
“The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the President of the United States,” Mehta writes. “But on the question of whether to grant a stay pending appeal, the President is subject to the same legal standard as any other litigant that does not prevail.”
Read the decision here: