Congress

Justices decide to wade into separation-of-powers showdown

The issue lands there just as the House prepares a floor vote on articles of impeachment

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to weigh in on a separation-of-powers showdown between Congress and Trump over whether Congress can obtain his financial and tax records. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court on Friday stepped into the political and legal fight over whether Congress can obtain President Donald Trump’s financial and tax records.

The justices agreed to decide two cases in the first separation-of-powers showdown between Congress and Trump to reach the high court. The issue lands there just as the House prepares a floor vote on articles of impeachment.

[House urges Supreme Court to enforce subpoenas for Trump’s financial records]

The cases center on subpoenas from three House committees to accounting firm Mazars USA, Deutsche Bank and Capital One Financial Corp., and could reshape the limits for impeachment and other oversight investigations into a sitting president.

The Supreme Court announced it would hear oral argument on the cases in March, putting it months after an expected timeline for a Senate impeachment trial.

That would mean a decision would be expected before the end of the term at the end of June, as the 2020 presidential campaign gets underway.

The cases join other politically charged cases at the high court on issues such as immigration, gun rights, abortion and LGBT rights. The Supreme Court tilts conservative, and has two Trump appointees, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

One case pits the House Oversight and Reform Committee against Trump’s personal lawyers over a committee subpoena to Mazars for eight years of the president’s financial records.

Trump’s personal lawyers argue that the committee did not have a legitimate legislative purpose to seek the records from before and after he took office. Trump filed the lawsuit to stop the subpoena to the accounting firm.

The committee has argued it has legitimate interests in investigating the accuracy of Trump’s financial disclosures and the lease of the Old Post Office Building as the site of the Trump International Hotel, as well as possible violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, sided with the House and ruled that Mazars must comply with the April 15 subpoena.

That majority found both the chamber rules and the Constitution — as well as prior court rulings — give the House broad authority to get records from a nongovernment custodian of the president’s financial information.

The committee, when urging the court to allow enforcement of the subpoena right away, said a president doesn’t have a right to stall the production of documents, particularly during an impeachment inquiry.

In the other case, Trump’s attorneys challenged subpoenas from the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees for financial records of Trump and his business from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit would have allowed enforcement of congressional subpoenas for financial records of Trump and his businesses.

Congress needs the information from the subpoenas from the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees to pass and implement legislative changes to secure the nation’s 2020 elections from foreign influence, the House said in a brief in that case.

The court also agreed to hear a case that requires accounting firm Mazars to comply with a New York state subpoena for Trump's financial and tax records that largely mirrors the congressional subpoena.

The congressional cases are Trump et al. v. Mazars USA et al., Docket No. 19-715, and Trump et al. v. Deutsche Bank et al., Docket No. 19-760. The state subpoena case is Trump v. Vance et al., Docket No. 19-635.

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