Oversight blasts DOJ for siding with Trump in subpoena fight

The filing pushes back on a strategy to stymie congressional probes by limiting what can be sought from the executive branch

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is seen on a monitor as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talks with an aide during a committee meeting on July 12, 2019. A new Oversight filing in D.C. court pushes back on a Trump administration strategy to stymie congressional investigations by limiting the scope of what they can seek from the White House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee criticized the Justice Department for proposing “astounding and novel” limits on congressional investigations Tuesday as a means to win a lawsuit over a subpoena for eight years of President Donald Trump’s financial records.

Oversight’s filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pushes back on a Trump administration strategy to stymie congressional investigations by limiting the scope of what they can seek from the executive branch.

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Oversight, in Tuesday’s filing and in oral arguments last month, argued Congress doesn’t have to tie its subpoena for Trump’s financial records from Mazars USA to specific legislation.

“The Department cites no law supporting this novel concept because there is none,” Tuesday’s brief said. “This invented test is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, the proper role of the courts and Congress, and the reality of Congressional investigations.”

Initially, Trump filed the suit in his personal capacity seeking to stop Mazars from complying with the House subpoena, before US District Court Judge Amit Mehta declined to do so. Trump then appealed to the DC Circuit, where members of a three-judge panel voiced skepticism about Trump’s ability to block the probe during oral arguments last month.

Then the DOJ stepped in, arguing in its brief that the subpoena trod on the exercise of the president’s duties and lacked sufficient justification. If it doesn’t block the subpoena outright, the DOJ wrote “at an absolute minimum” the court should require the House to provide more specific reasons for seeking the information from Mazars.

“The House’s lack of responsibility is sufficient reason for this Court to declare this subpoena invalid,” the brief said.

If the court doesn’t step in to stop the Mazars subpoena, the DOJ also raised the specter of a flood of further investigations based on “vague incantations of hypothetical legislative purposes.”

The committee again argued Tuesday those concerns have no basis in history or the law — Congress has been able to investigate the president since George Washington — and the subpoena to Mazars doesn’t intrude on Trump’s official duties. Further, any suspect subpoenas can be dealt with by the courts on their own merits, its brief said.

“These arguments are fabricated out of whole cloth: they may represent what the Department wishes the law were, but they are not the law,” the House brief said.

The committee voted to authorize a subpoena for the president’s financial information as part of its oversight powers, which Tuesday’s brief argued makes it sufficient on its face.

It also pushed back on DOJ arguments that the subpoena would have to be authorized by the whole House, relying on a previous resolution which authorized committee chairs to issue subpoenas.

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