Rule of Law

Trump financial records must be given to Congress, appeals court rule

  • Trump appointee Neomi Rao dissents in 2-1 court decision
  • Ex-Ukraine envoy defies White House to testify – live

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the president’s financial records must be turned over to the House of Representatives – in a 2-1 decision with a Trump appointee dissenting.

The US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit said lawmakers should get the documents they have subpoenaed from Mazars USA, which has provided accounting services to Donald Trump.

The House oversight committee subpoenaed records from Mazars in April. The records at issue include documents from 2011 to 2018 the House wants for investigation of the president’s reporting of his finances, potential conflicts of interest and whether he may have engaged in illegal conduct before and during his time in office.

The list of documents makes no mention of Trump’s tax returns, which are the subject of separate legal disputes.

Trump could appeal to the supreme court. Jay Sekulow, an attorney for the president, reportedly said on Friday his legal team was “evaluating the opinion” and reviewing “all options including appeals”.

Neomi Rao, who was confirmed to the appeals court in March, to fill a seat vacated by the supreme court pick Brett Kavanaugh, dissented from the ruling. The other judges are Patricia Millett, appointed by Barack Obama, and David Tatel, appointed by Bill Clinton.

In the majority ruling, Tatel wrote: “Contrary to the president’s arguments, the committee possesses authority under both the House rules and the constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.”

In dissent, Rao wrote that the committee should have asked for the records under the House’s impeachment power, not its legislative authority.

“The constitution and our historical practice draw a consistent line between the legislative and judicial powers of Congress,” she wrote. “The majority crosses this boundary for the first time by upholding this subpoena investigating the illegal conduct of the president under the legislative power.”

Elizabeth Wydra, a supreme court litigator and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive Washington thinktank, called Rao’s dissent “extraordinary”.

Writing on Twitter, Wydra added: “It ignores that Congress has very broad authority to investigate – far beyond the power of impeachment – and seems to suggest that courts have some say over the scope of impeachable offenses (they don’t).”

On running for the White House, Trump broke with precedent, if not law, in not releasing any information about his tax affairs.

The billionaire regularly claimed not to be able to release his returns due to being under audit, which in fact would not preclude their release. He promised to release such information eventually but has not done so in nearly three years in office.

Slices of such information have since been made public by the media. Efforts to obtain Trump tax returns through the courts continue in various jurisdictions.

The House ways and means committee has sued the Trump administration over access to the president’s tax returns. In New York, Trump sued to prevent Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with House subpoenas for banking and financial records. A judge ruled against him and Trump appealed.

Trump is also in court trying to stop the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining his tax returns. A judge in that case ruled this week the president’s claim to immunity while in office was “repugnant”. Trump immediately appealed. Oral arguments were scheduled for 23 October.

Commenting on Twitter on possible outcomes from Friday’s ruling in the Mazars case, the Republican consultant and never-Trumper Rick Wilson counselled caution.

“Don’t get all triumphant about Trump having to turn over his tax returns quite yet,” he wrote.

Trump, Wilson said, will “appeal until the last dog dies” and “if he loses at supreme court he will defy the order, because he is lawless and [attorney general William] Barr will back him up.”

The Trump administration has consistently refused to comply with oversight efforts by Democrats in the House, most recently the formal impeachment inquiry launched in response to the president’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading political rival.