Trump Tells Court ‘Whole World’ Shouldn’t See His Financial Records
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s lawyer told a federal appeals court that allowing the House to subpoena financial records from former presidents and show them “to the whole world” would give Congress too much leverage over the executive, upsetting the balance of power.
“How would you deal with Congress if you knew they could expose your entire financial history to the public as soon as you left office?” Trump’s lawyer, Cameron Norris, told a panel of three judges during a hearing Monday in Washington over a subpoena for documents by the House Oversight Committee. “That threat would loom large over everything you’re doing.”
Trump and House Democrats both appealed in August after a district judge issued an order requiring the former president’s accountants at Mazars USA to turn over some of his financial records while protecting others from disclosure. It’s one of several high-stakes clashes between Democrats and Trump, who is weighing a potential 2024 run for the White House.
Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed skepticism about Trump’s claim that the House was merely seeking leverage. “You’re assuming that’s the intent or the motivation of what Congress is trying to do,” Jackson said. “I guess that’s the part I’m a little unsure of.”
The House claims it is trying to find out if its process for reviewing the potential conflicts of interest of presidents needs to be improved. Lawmakers raised the issue after the Trump Organization leased the Old Post Office government building in Washington, which he converted into a luxury hotel.
The House’s general counsel, Douglas Letter, was asked by Jackson whether the subpoenas were too broad to meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s heightened standard for seeking financial records from presidents.
“The subpoena raises a question about whether what is really going on here is more of the kind of dragnet fishing expedition that we all agree the Supreme Court says you can’t do,” Jackson said.
Letter said the heightened standard “does not apply to a former president.”
Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan asked Letter a similar question after grilling the House lawyer about the relevance of Trump’s financial records. Letter said the House needs more detail about Trump’s financial transactions to truly understand the weaknesses in its oversight.
“There were serious problems that could have gone to major national security concerns because of Mr. Trump’s financial interests with, for example Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia,” Letter said. “There is so much smoke here, it is blinding and it’s hard to breathe.”
No Need for Records
Norris, Trump’s lawyer, argued that the House can change its conflict-of-interest policies “without every shred of President Trump’s financial information,” because the House has already identified areas of improvement.
But Jackson said she was concerned that restricting subpoenas of former presidents could shift the balance of power against Congress, potentially hindering its duty “to protect the republic from threats both foreign and domestic.”
“In a situation in which Congress perceives that there may have been threatening behavior, misbehavior, problems in the White House -- one would think that the aftermath of that administration is exactly the time in which Congress would be evaluating whether the legislative scheme was sufficient to prevent that sort of thing from happening in the future,” she said.
Srinivasan asked Letter about whether the subpoenas had been issued for the valid legislative purpose of improving financial disclosure rules, or for the “invalid legislative objective of exposing wrongdoing for the sake of exposure.”
“The more it seems like President Trump’s financial arrangements were historically complicated and multi-layered and unique, the less it seems like that information is going to be relevant for predicting what a future president might present,” Srinivasan said.
Letter said Trump’s complicated finances may not be as unique as it seems.
“I think at one point we had three billionaires who had announced they were running for president in the 2020 election,” Letter said.
The August ruling by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta called on Mazars to turn over documents related to the hotel lease, as well as records that could shed light on whether Trump received gifts or compensation from foreign governments in violation of the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clauses.
The appeals will prolong a legal battle that began in 2019, when Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena demanding eight years of Trump’s financial records. Trump fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which punted it back to the lower courts in Washington.
The high court ordered new scrutiny to determine whether the subpoenas were clearly focused on valid legislative goals and didn’t excessively burden the president.
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