House Democrats Face Pushback From Judge on Trump Subpoena

A judge in Washington expressed skepticism over the latest efforts by Democrats in the House of Representatives to obtain former President Donald Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm.

At a hearing Thursday, U.S. Judge Amit Mehta quizzed a lawyer for the Democrats on whether the materials the House is seeking from Mazars USA are truly essential to its legislative goals. The Democrats have argued that they would use the records to devise laws that protect against financial conflicts of interest.

Mehta pushed back in an exchange with Douglas Letter, the general counsel of the U.S. House.

“There are others who have fairly complex financial holdings and are wealthy,” Mehta said, listing former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross as an example. “Why couldn’t you learn what you feel like you need to learn by using someone else’s financials?”

Letter responded that the House was considering legislation that could specifically address conflicts of interest involving the president.

The hearing was the latest chapter in a winding legal dispute that began two years ago when the Democrats issued a subpoena to Mazars for eight years of Trump’s financial information.

Trump challenged the subpoena, and the case reached the Supreme Court last year. The justices ruled 7-2 that congressional subpoenas seeking the president’s personal information must be “no broader than reasonably necessary” and ordered lower courts to determine whether the House’s request met a set of heightened standards.

Much of the hearing on Thursday focused on whether the Supreme Court’s so-called Mazars test should continue to apply now that Trump has left the White House. Lawyers for the House have argued that the test doesn’t apply to private citizens. But at the hearing, Mehta said he was unsure if he had the authority to create an entirely new test, given the wording of the Supreme Court’s order.

“The order says I need to resolve this dispute consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said. “I’m not sure I take that as an invitation to craft a new test.”

Still, Mehta also expressed skepticism about certain elements of the Trump legal team’s position, including its argument that the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee isn’t pursuing a valid legislative purpose with the Mazars subpoena.

“How is a court supposed to stand in judgment of Congress and determine what the true purpose is?“ he asked. “Why shouldn’t I take her at her word?”

Mehta had tried to avoid hashing out these constitutional issues in court. At a status conference in June, he expressed hope that the dispute could be resolved outside of court, potentially with the help of a mediator.. But the two sides wrote in a joint filing last week that they’d been unable to reach an agreement.

In an exchange with Mehta, a lawyer for Trump, Cameron Norris, said that his legal team offered to provide the Democrats with financial statements from 2015 to 2018, as well as some additional documents, as long as the committee agreed to keep the materials confidential. “It’s our view that the committee was extremely eager to declare an impasse and cut those negotiations off,” Norris said.

Letter responded angrily to that claim, emphasizing that Trump’s lawyers offered to reveal only a “very small number” of the documents the Democrats have requested -- and only under restrictive conditions.

“Your honor,” he said, “they’re playing you, and they’re playing me, and this is not right.”

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